The purpose of any business is to profitably create an experience that is so compelling to customers that their loyalty is assured, said keynote speaker Scott McKain during the United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) 2004 Expo held in Atlanta in February. “It‘s no longer about customer satisfaction. The bar has been raised.” How [operators] do things differently is what makes people keep coming back, he said. “That is what transcends price.“
Other opening-day events included a state-of-the-industry panel moderated by UMA President Victor Parra and International Motor Coach Group President Steve Klika. Panelists discussed the past, present and future of the industry, such as the need to market more aggressively and the importance of embracing new technology to create new business. Other key business strategies included hiring an outside trainer for the sales force and seeking new opportunities and alliances.
“Good competition makes you a better company,” said panelist Jeff Polzein of Red Carpet Charters in Tulsa, Okla. “Don’t fear competition.”
Another session speaker, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Administrator Annette Sandberg, cited reduced congestion and increased mobility as key initiatives. Removing uninsured motorcoach operators from the road was another important FMCSA agenda. She also commended the industry for “being kept out of the hours-of-service rule because of its good safety record.”
Attendees of the various seminars were educated on improving utilization rates, the importance of business diversification and how to secure contract work. “Utilization doesn’t mean anything unless you balance costs and profits,” said Ed Gallagher of Leprechaun Lines in Newburgh, N.Y.
During his marketing session on business survival tactics, speaker Chip Eichelberger touted the benefits of optimism, innovation and leadership. “The formula for success is practicing a few simple disciplines and repeating them every single day.”
Nearly 1,400 attendees, including more than 750 exhibitors, graced the show floor of the Georgia World Congress Center during UMA’s three-day event. In addition to numerous product offerings, the prevailing trend on the show floor included wrapping coaches in elaborate graphics to garner attention.
DaimlerChrysler Commercial Buses (DCCB), one of the vehicle exhibitors, introduced the CL300, its new mid-size luxury coach. This vehicle, built on the Freightliner Business Class M2 chassis, features a Mercedes-Benz 906 engine and a fully multiplexed electrical network with on-board diagnostics. NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty was on hand for photos and to sign autographs to inaugurate the latest addition to DCCB’s coach line.
Motor Coach Industries (MCI) showcased its E4500 and J4500, equipped with new power train options. MCI also celebrated the delivery of the 2,500th coach, to Lakefront Lines of Brook Park, Ohio.
Another exhibitor, Prevost Car touted its removable wheelchair lift system, now available on XLII or H-series coaches.
Blue Bird Corp. also made news by announcing the consolidation of its coach, luxury motor home and commercial bus divisions to form Blue Bird Coachworks.
Day two of the show featured UMA’s 5th Annual Vision Awards ceremony, where Steve Busskohl of Arrow Stage Lines in Norfolk, Neb., was winner of the Vision Award. Other award winners of the evening included Alex Guariento of Greyhound, Dave Bolen of New World Tours in Lorton, Va., UMA Board Member Mitch Guralnick and Joseph Cyr of Cyr Bus Lines in Old Town, Maine.