VIP Tour and Charter Bus Co. in Portland, Maine, opened its doors for business in 1985 with one vehicle, a 1953 GMC 4104. The family-owned and -operated business has since grown and now boasts a fleet of 19 motorcoaches, as well as commuter buses and mini-coaches.
Despite its growth, the company prides itself in staying “small” as a way to nourish its personal relationship with its customers — many of them repeat customers. “We are happy to stay small enough, while remembering the personal connection with those that we do business with,” says VIP General Manager Ray Penfold. Running the operation is a family affair, with Penfold’s wife and two daughters playing integral roles. “We think it’s very important to make time to laugh together and have fun working,” he says.
While the company enjoys much repeat business, it tries to cultivate new customers through radio and TV advertising. Its commercials, which the operation puts together with the help of its cable provider, have been running for about eight years, showcasing its vehicles and providing some exposure for its employees. “We like to let people know who they are riding with,” says Penfold.
In addition to its radio and TV exposure, the company gets a lot of mileage out of its Website (www.vipchartercoaches. com). One of its newest features is the company jingle that catches your ear while you traverse the site. “We wanted to be noticed, and we want people to recognize it,” Penfold says of the theme song, which is also tied to its other advertising. The site also features online booking capabilities, as well as video highlighting the operation’s service and fleet options.
The company recently added a new 45-foot Prevost X3 coach to its fleet, which will help with additional business. “We’ve had to turn down work because we didn’t have enough vehicles,” Penfold says.
VIP’s fleet also includes a luxury executive coach, a Prevost as well, equipped with TVs, VCRs, surround sound stereo, restroom, shower, kitchen and a wet bar. The company will even supply an on-board hostess. Other features include external hook-ups for electric, phone and cable TV as well as on-board generators.
“We offer the luxury coach for special occasions,” says Penfold. “We used to have limousines, but we got rid of them because they were too much trouble to clean and weren’t as spacious.”
VIP takes pride in the several honors it has won over the years, including being one of only four bus companies selected in North America to receive the prestigious Robert J. McRell Safety Award. VIP is also an authorized member of the Highway Watch anti-terrorism program. “All of our drivers are trained to be more aware of what’s going on around them,” Penfold says.
A long-time UMA member, VIP offers its services to other members in the area that need help with a breakdown, or to transport passengers. “If someone is in trouble in Maine, they can call us and we do what we can to be helpful,” Penfold says.
AT A GLANCE
Fleet mix: Prevost
Year started: 1985
Service area: U.S. (primarily northeastern states),Canada
Services offered: charters, tours, scheduled service
Average annual mileage: 500,000
General Manager: Ray Penfold (pictured)