Corporate Coaches and a fleet of Van Hools deliver sterling service in south Florida
By David Hubbard
The fairly recent trend of limousine companies to move to minibuses and coaches has not come as news to Andy and Laurie Bardar, owners of Corporate Coaches, Hollywood, FL. Founded 14 years ago as a limousine company, they began business with three minibuses and then filled in with the customary livery of stretch limos and town cars. What they did not foresee was the fleet growing to include 17 luxury motorcoaches after acquiring their first Van Hool C2025 in April 2005.
“We had no idea what a Van Hool was when we saw we needed to move to full-size motorcoaches,” says Andy Bardar. “We only knew we were losing business because we didn’t have one.”
He says having to farm out business they could have as easily handled themselves made the leap to the next level a very easy decision.
“It was frustrating for us to farm out the work,” says Laurie Bardar. “Not just monetarily, but also the fact we had so little control over the quality of service by the other operators representing our company.”
The Bardars say by 2005, Corporate Coaches had earned a sterling reputation among the corporate entities and destination management companies in south Florida. Any blemish on their good work by good people to that point as a limousine company was their greatest fear, and motivator to acquire a coach of their own. By then they were operating seven minibuses.
Andy Barder says they explored all options, and eventually elected to go with the Van Hool brand following a call on a Monday to ABC Companies in Winter Garden, FL, and being very adamant in their request for immediate delivery. He purchased the first motorcoach sight unseen.
“Our sales rep, Jim Morrison, patiently explained to us what a Van Hool was and showed up at our doorstep that Wednesday in a pouring rain with the new C2025,” he says. “Standing under umbrellas, he showed us how to start it and fully acquaint us with our new vehicle. That was the start of our lasting business relationship.”
He says the decision to grow an exclusively Van Hool fleet has as much, if not more, to do with the prompt accommodation and service Corporate Coaches has received through ABC Companies since that first day. Before the close of 2005, the company had acquired two more C2025s.
“Our corporate clients were ecstatic when they heard we were getting into the motorcoach business,” says Laurie Bardar. “Fortunately, so were several of our chauffeurs who had previous experience driving coaches.”
She attributes much of their success with motorcoaches to the drivers trained as limousine chauffeurs who make no distinction between the size of the group and the size of the vehicle in the delivery of good customer service, as well as the three full-time detailers who keep the coaches spotless for each and every trip.
Andy Bardar says the first several coaches more or less rolled under the radar, all white with no graphic markings.
“It dawned on us a year later what we essentially had were 45-foot rolling billboards,” he says. “We then developed a graphics theme to identify and promote our coaches.”
By the time the recession began crippling the nation in 2008, Andy Bardar says Corporate Coaches was poised to grow. He says while other companies were struggling, his company enjoyed a 10 percent annual increase in business on average for the next three years.
With people out of work and finding their way to the casinos, he says the spike in business resulted from his decision to approach the Seminole Tribe of Florida to shuttle customers to and from its three nearby operations, the Hard Rock, Hollywood and Coconut Creek.
“Once we explained to them what a Van Hool was, they warmed to our idea for regular coach service, and hired a dedicated motorcoach marketing director to work our account,” he says. “We quickly established convenient pickup points and basically began growing this new business together.”
With little competition early on, Corporate Coaches was delivering as many as 600 customers a day to the Hollywood casino. The Seminole motorcoach marketing department has since grown to nine employees and opened seven coach bays to handle the service. As other companies have begun making runs, Andy Bardar says Corporate Coaches still carries up to 60 percent of the passengers riding buses to the casinos.
Three and a half years ago, Corporate Coaches purchased additional C coaches for additional line runs six days a week from Fort Meyers and Naples to the Immokalee Casino.
The Bardars were the first independent operators other than Megabus to purchase the Van Hool TD925 double deck coach, which ABC Companies introduced in 2008. He purchased three primarily for the casino operations.
“They have replaced two coaches at a number of pickup points within the city,” says Laurie Bardar. “Being able to sell by the seat and carry 81 passengers on one coach is far more cost effective.”
She says the TD925s also have the attention of corporate clients transporting large groups.
“While some of our drivers found these larger coaches a little intimidating, others were chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel,” adds Andy Bardar. “When the first two double decks arrived, they were hounding me to drive them.”
The company conducted special training with three drivers for the TD925s, and those three are still the dedicated double deck drivers.
Six months ago, Corporate Coaches opened a branch office in Orlando in an acquisition of a motorcoach company in that area. The former owner stayed on as operations manager.
This expansion also included the purchase of three 2011 model C2025s, fully outfitted with three-point seat belts, contoured parcel racks and large monitors, and the new circular stairwell. Two seat 57 passengers for standard charter service; the other is the Corporate Coach standard 61-seat configuration.
“From day one, we were sold on ordering coaches with 61 seats,” says Andy Bardar. “It is perfect for our casino business, and surprisingly, our corporate side as well. Those extra four seats can mean the difference between a one-coach and two-coach move for many of our customers.” BR