The BUSRide 2010 Motorcoach Industry Achievement Award recipient exemplifies forward thinking in difficult times
By David Hubbard
Asked how he fared through the worst of the recession, Ray Land says his customers have been struggling. Asked what he has done to keep his company solvent through tough times of late, he says he diversified to offer an alternative that would neither devalue his top-tier brand nor demean a certain cross section of his clientele.
The conversation intoned his compassion and an understanding of business that belies his 22 years. 2009 proved pivotal for his Florida-based Fabulous Coach Lines with several significant developments throughout the year that demonstrate the young company is coming of age. BUSRide honored Land for his efforts with its 2010 BUSRide Motorcoach Industry Achievement Award, presented during UMA Expo 2010.
Land established his Fabulous Coach Lines six years ago. Today a fleet of 16 motorcoaches serves two separate levels of charter service. His latest endeavor, Breezeways, is the counterpart to the luxury-level service Fabulous Coach Lines delivers. With money matters foremost in everyone’s mind, he listened to the concerns of customers not looking for luxury but just a way to get to where they wanted to go on time in a safe and comfortable fashion for a reasonable price.
His economy line launched in June with four bright white, 49-passenger Van Hool 940s with standard coach amenities, presented in a subdued yet inviting Floridian theme. Created expressly to deal with a tough economy, the Breezeways package stirs in some fun that Land says goes a long way to reduce some of the tension where money is tight.
“I was concerned my customers would jump all over Breezeways and lose interest in Fabulous Coach,” says Land. “I was pleasantly surprised by people who still insist on top-tier service and amenities. They told us their business depended on our premium appointed coaches and elite service.”
The metallic blue and red Prevost H3-45 coaches mark the Fabulous brand that inside features onboard wifi, DVD, pillows and blankets. Many vehicles feature leather seating and XM radio. Fabulous drivers dressed in three-piece suits board passengers on red carpets at every stop. As part of the premium packages groups may opt to include an onboard escort to serve snacks and beverages from blue half size airline carts.
The Breezeways drivers casually dressed in tropical attire present an upbeat youthful style as they drape Hawaiian leis on passengers as they board.
General criteria and guidelines
“We created Breezeways for economy, but we still want this brand to be fun and inviting,” says Land. “We have developed general criteria and guidelines our sales staff can use to direct callers to the most appropriate of either coach service.”
He says Breezeways is turning out to be the brand of preference for student groups, family reunions, youth camps and Disney day trips. New drivers to the company now have the opportunity to break in on the smaller coaches, while the senior drivers handle the duties for Fabulous Coach Lines.
Land’s earliest adventures with motorcoaches began as an eighth grader in his small rural hometown of Branford, FL. As class president he made it his job to arrange annual class excursions and subsequently got a view of the coach business he thought he would like to fix.
“My school won an achievement award and we voted to spend it on a trip to Universal Studios,” he says. “I bought the tickets, arranged for substitute teachers and chartered a couple of coaches from a company in Georgia. Come the day of the trip, they showed up two hours late and the buses were wrecks. I fixed a hole in the floor with duct tape and we somehow muddled through.”
Land says while his inaugural charter did not turn out as nice as he had planned, his class thoroughly enjoyed coach trips. He organized two to six trips a year until he graduated from high school. In his first commercial venture with a chartered coach he charged a local church group $100 to arrange a retreat that also did not go well.
“The A/C broke down and everyone was upset and I had to offer a full refund,” he says.
“The first time I ask for money I end up $300 in the hole.”
While still in high school
At age 17 and still a senior in high school, Land thought he might need his own coach. With the help of his family who swore they would co-sign but never make a payment, he put his savings down on an older Van Hool. Shortly after in his graduation Land began assembling his fleet of Prevost H3-45s and acquired his CDL. Twenty-two company vehicles later his promise to make all the payments still holds.
Last year Land says the company was able to double the requisite liability insurance to $10 million. He also bolstered his sales staff and initiated a D.C. Certification program for his drivers maneuvering Fabulous Coaches in the capital city.
He took 15 of his full time drivers on a field trip to Washington D.C. to familiarize them with the coach requirements and routes to the sights, attractions and points of interest in and around Washington D.C.
“After a couple of customer complaints, I thought it would be best if the Fabulous Coach drivers didn’t have to learn their way around with passengers on board,” says Land. “The drivers donated their time and several of our senior drivers from the Washington D.C. area helped our new employees with the layout of the city. Several tour operators who contract with our company also volunteered tour guides.”
Land says with Washington D.C. being the most popular destination with as many as 12 Fabulous Coaches in the city at any one time, this certification is already relieving much of the stress on the drivers and putting customers much more at ease.
“Everyone who participated thought it was a valuable experience,” says Land. “Knowing where to go, how to get there and the locations for parking and pickups has certainly elevated our level of service on these tours.”
Land, now vice president of the Florida Motorcoach Association, thinks back over his last six years.
“Being in the motorcoach business has tested me to the limit,” says Land. “It certainly is not for the weak of heart and I am finding out experience is worth a lot. We are learning that something is going to go wrong and when it does, it is more all about how we handle the situation.”
Prevost President Gaétan Bolduc expressed his pleasure in watching the Land’s steady progress with Fabulous Coach Lines.
“Ray Land represents a new breed of coach operators who bring fresh enthusiasm and renewed vitality to our industry that attracts a broader customer base,” he says. “He and all the members of the Fabulous Coach Lines team are driven to offer their customers the best that motorcoach travel has to offer.”
Land says at this point with newer equipment, better drivers and everything running more efficiently, he thinks there is a way to be happy in the motorcoach business.
“The challenges are all part of the fun,” he says. “I cannot imagine my life with the motorcoach business.”