COVID-19 hit Celebrity Charter Services at the worst possible time. The Chicagoland/Indiana motorcoach company is owned and operated by Tiana Davis-Heyward with help from husband Keith Heyward. They took delivery of their first two coaches in 2019, just before the pandemic struck.
The company’s second coach entered service just five months before shutdowns began in March 2020.
“Things were really going great,” said Keith Heyward. “We were building clientele, getting phone calls, and building our website. People were starting to reach out to us for charters. Then March 2020 happened, and everything got really scary for us.”
The Heywards did everything in their power to keep Celebrity Charter Services alive through the lean pandemic months – from deferring vehicle payments, to transporting migrant farmers between work locations.
“Due to the pandemic, we probably went from 100 charters in 2019 to maybe 15-20 charters in 2020,” Keith said.
At the end of 2020, Keith even returned to his roots in commercial trucking. The Heywards purchased a truck, formed a sister company to handle its business, and Keith hit the road to keep their bus company afloat.
The good news is that it worked. Since early 2021, Celebrity Charter Services business has grown again with contracts for Chicago shuttle operations, corporate charters, and college/university sports teams. In November 2021, the company took delivery of its third motorcoach.
“We are operating three coaches, and business is steadily increasing,” Keith said. “Like everyone in the industry, we’ve had to fight through the driver shortage. But otherwise, everything is moving well and we’re very excited for the future.
Keeping track with busHive
Keith said that Celebrity Charter Services was introduced to busHive before the company took delivery of its first coach. The Heywards were looking for software to ease scheduling and invoicing, and to present customers with the best possible trip options – all with a professional look.
“When an operator gets inquiries for quotes, busHive calculates mileage and expected trip duration, then generates a charter price at the operator’s current billing rates,” said Brian Mann, busHive vice president of business development. “Calculating quotes using Excel or Word is a time-exhaustive process which we seek to simplify.”
Once a customer books a charter, busHive automatically generates confirmations for the operator. The software customizes contracts’ unique policies, terms, and conditions, specifically for Celebrity Charter Services.
The system has a built in, fully-integrated dispatching and scheduling display. With the click of a button, the Heywards can view a calendar and quickly see what equipment they have available each day. This prevents overbooking, and allows them to adjust rates for high-demand days.
“I wanted to give our customers information that they could use to make a good decision about whether to use our services or not,” Keith said. “Many of the brokers and agencies, which we use, like to look at a scheduling system that is straightforward and professional. We needed a system that reflected the professionalism of our company.”
Celebrity Charter Services now utilizes busHive for quotes, confirmations, scheduling, and driver itineraries. “It helps with scheduling drivers and coaches, knowing what buses are available each day, running reports, and seeing how each coach is generating revenue, even repair and maintenance costs,” Keith said.
Keith said that Celebrity Charter Services’ drivers have come to appreciate the instantaneous information generated by the busHive Driver Portal, as well as its flexibility.
“They have the ability to accept or turn down charters, but thankfully no one has turned down a charter yet!” Keith said.
When the company runs a quote (and it is accepted by the customer), Heyward said that it is easy to go in and add a vehicle and driver to that particular trip. The driver is notified, and the trip’s date, time, pickup location, and destination are all instantly available to him or her.
Keith added that the introduction of the Driver Portal has saved a significant amount of paper and ink toner, since the company no longer has to print out all of the aforementioned charter information. Drivers using the busHive system can access the data with a few clicks.
“Not having to go onto the buses to place paperwork, that all adds up to time savings,” he said. “Drivers have the information right away so they can plan accordingly – and they love it.”
“Some of our drivers also appreciate just having this level of professional technology,” he added. “It works so well that it’s almost considered an employment perk.”
Working together to drive revenue
Keith said that busHive was very accommodating during the pandemic, allowing Celebrity Charter Services and other customers to reduce subscription costs to keep more cash on hand during lean times.
Another big plus for Celebrity Charter Services – revenue reports. Keith and Tiana are able to generate reports showing each coach’s revenue, the costs associated with its maintenance, and compare the revenues and miles of each coach.
“It really allows us to not overutilize any one vehicle, and space out how we handle our trips,” Keith said.
“To be able to see all of that information in a central location – we like it a lot.”