Success goes unmarked
Royal Excursions turns its Van Hool C2045Es into Rock Star coaches
By David Hubbard
Royal Excursions, Mishawaka, IN, is built on the winning combination of a solid ethic, imagination and working relationships.
Relying on work habits engrained since childhood and working weekend auctions with his father, Royal Excursions founder Shannon Kaser took a calculated gamble on the transportation business in 1998. Seeing his operation as more than a taxi or limo service, Kaser chose the name to denote a more dynamic style of transportation. Twelve years later Kaser believes he has nailed the concept with his most recent purchase of three all black, unmarked motorcoaches, two of which are 2010 Van Hool C2045Es.
He says his college sports teams were so impressed with the look inside and out they came up with the name for demonic looking vehicles — the Rock Star coaches. It stuck.
“This is a long way from how I started. I had no experience, no family involvement with buses,” says Kaser. “I just always knew I wanted to run my own business and saw a likely niche for a few vans in this area.”
He says his vision in no way stretched to the fleet of 47 vehicles he operates today.
“I invested in one 12-passenger van and started knocking on doors,” says Kaser. “I set out to build lasting working relationships with hotels and casinos in my area.”
A year later he added a minibus to meet growing demand for his service, and purchased his first motorcoach in 2000.
Royal Excursions jumped in as a full-fledged charter tour company in 2002 when Kaser moved the operation out of his home and hired a few employees to help.
“Doing all the work myself — the sales, driving, cleaning, maintenance, I had become pretty paternal with my equipment and duties,” he recalls. “The hardest part for me was to simply allow my qualified employees to help me. I quickly learned that if my dream of my own business was to succeed, I would have to trust and rely on their contribution.”
Together, Kaser and his team have developed Royal Excursions in a manner that he says keeps customers coming back, growing the business only as needed.
In addition to the minibuses and several specialty limo vehicles for small groups and shuttles, the charter tour division has grown to require 19 motorcoaches. Royal Excursions also is under contract with the City of Mishawka to manage and operate nine city transit trolley routes.
“I have never tried to pre-determine how big this operation should be,” says Kaser. “It’s about being absolutely certain we are doing the best we can for what we already have. We never want to sacrifice our level of quality our existing customers have come to expect just for the sake of growth.”
Kaser says he recognized the growing pains when the company operated with fewer vehicles.
“There gets to a gray area in the middle where a company of 10 to 12 coaches faces close to the same expenses as a larger company in terms of drivers, dispatch, fueling and maintenance,” he says. “But with few vehicles to generate revenue the margins are tighter. There is no book on how to run a bus company. Every owner has a different approach.”
Kaser says part of his approach is his strategy to invest heavily in his equipment, as he did with the Van Hool Rock Star coaches. The C2045Es are outfitted with black leather wingback seats with tray tables, custom parcel racks, WiFi, satellite TV and a galley area in the rear.
“Until people see what we have, they don’t know what to ask for,” he says. “Once they climb aboard what feels like their private coach, they remember next time to ask for the Rock Star coach.”
Kaser took delivery on the first black coach in July. He says with customers fighting over it right out of the chute, he immediately ordered the second matching C2045E.
Royal Excursions transports college sports teams, and says much of the new business is the result of the image the Rock Star coaches lend to the company.
“Schools will have seen them or heard about them and call us,” says Kaser. “Suddenly, Royal Excursions is all about the big black bus.”
With over 90 percent of his passengers on their way somewhere to have a good time, attending sports events, going to casinos or off on sightseeing tours, Kaser sees their trip to and from as half the fun. He says much of the training is to ensure his entire company contributes to their experience.
“Obviously we seek out the most competent and safest drivers,” he says. “But an individual’s people skills rank right up there in the hiring process. We need drivers who can relate with the passengers. In fact, we rely heavily on their rapport with our customers to generate and maintain repeat business.”
According to Kaser, a customer’s request for a particular driver is a major vote of confidence in the company. BR