Growing Business Amidst Economic Downturn Prevailing Theme at UMA Expo

Posted on February 6, 2009 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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Exploring new opportunities, maintaining the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Charter Bus Rules and the worldwide economic downturn were the constant themes being discussed at the United Motorcoach Association’s (UMA) Expo 2009.

“Preserving the charter bus rules will be a battle,” said Victor Parra, president/CEO of the UMA, citing pressure from transit groups to make changes to the recently finalized rules. During the Opening Session, Parra also discussed that the secret to successfully picking up more charter work may be to partner with local operators that have historically been looked at as the competition. He called the new mindset, “Coop-itition.”

Continuing with the theme, the “Dawn of a New Age” session focused on the impact of the Charter Bus Rules and how important it can be to the motorcoach industry’s future.

“The concept seems difficult for some operators to wrap their head around once transit posts an opportunity,” said Mike Waters of Coach America/Franciscan Lines about the difficulties some operators are having in understanding how the new rules work. “As an operator, if you want the business they are offering, you have to go in and take it.”

The panel, which also included Tom Ready of Ready Bus Line and Dale Krapf of Krapf Coaches Inc., and was moderated by Parra and Steve Klika, president, International Motor Coach Group, took turns discussing their experiences both in dealing with today’s economy and in responding to new work opportunities. Each urged the audience not to become complacent, and to be prepared to fight to maintain their recent victory.

Krapf also urged the audience to get to know their local Congressmen and transit agency board members and form a working relationship that will help make them aware of their cause.

Belt-tightening tactics

“This worldwide economic downturn is different then anything I’ve ever seen,” said Krapf. “A large part of the populace is scared.”

That sentiment was echoed throughout the Expo, which was held January 21 to 25 in Orlando, Fla., whether it was during sessions, breaks and networking opportunities, or on the show floor, with many panelists, attendees and suppliers discussing what they are doing to cinch their proverbial belts.

“We were considering purchasing a new coach since the latter part of 2008,” said George Childers, owner/operator of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Magic Carpet Ride. “Now, it’s definitely on the backburner, at least for the immediate future, and, who knows what’s going to happen in the distant future.”

One solution thrown out quite a bit was reassessing your office and scaling down the operation wherever you find it feasible.

Despite the economic storm clouds, a few silver linings were uncovered. The “New Places to Recruit New Drivers” panel revealed that the economy and subsequent poor job market has generated a growing number of driver applicants, turning the problem from how to find drivers to how to find the drivers that will be most capable.

The panel, which included Gary Bauer of Bauer’s Transportation, Jeff Greteman of Windstar Lines and DATTCO’s Pam Martinez, stressed the importance of the interview process, citing references and stringent background checks as some of the tools to making sure an applicant is the right fit for your operation.

The group also discussed some of the innovative places they are finding new, preferable applicants, including the recruitment of retired or retiring principals and school teachers, firemen, policemen and soon to be discharged military personnel. They also cited job fairs, which are found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Website, and employee referrals as being beneficial in the search.

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