In 2006, after 21 years in the limousine business, Sander Kaplan, owner of A Candies Coachworks, decided to give charter a chance. This fortuitous — and slightly extemporary — investment became the company’s saving grace after the limo industry took a hit in 2008. Today, A Candies Coachworks’ charter service continues to function as the company’s dominant offering.
Most of A Candies Coachworks’ initial success can be attributed to its affiliation with college athletics. Even before purchasing coaches, Kaplan used University of Florida (UF) as a business model.
“UF was the obvious first choice to scout out because it’s the anchor of the community in this area — they’re the biggest entity,” Kaplan says.
While Kaplan was researching, he noticed UF had been chartering buses stationed in Jacksonville, Fla. and Orlando, Fla., both of which are close to two hours away from its campus.
“UF actually had a great need for a local partner, and I kick myself for not realizing this earlier,” Kaplan says.
Based in Gainesville, Fla., A Candies Coachworks offered proximity and reliability. The university eventually handed Kaplan all of its other major sporting accounts, such as the soccer, football, basketball and track and field teams.
“UF is our priority number one customer and always has been,” Kaplan says. “Everything else we do — like fraternity and sorority events and church outings — kind of fills in the gaps.”
Coming from the limousine industry has its perks. The training A Candies Coachworks staff received in the past has given the company a leg up, especially with their higher profile customers.
“UF expects and demands perfection, and they deserve it too — they’re a top ranked school,” Kaplan says. “Because of that, we felt we had the best ability to serve them for the reason being that coming from a limo background, all you do is serve customers and improve customer service.”
A Candies Coachworks drivers, who are referred to as “ambassadors,” work off of a simple company motto: “Clean coach, on time, friendly ambassadors.” They are taught to wait by the door and greet each boarding passenger. Ambassadors will even roll out a red carpet for special events and leave each rider mints on their seats before each voyage.
“The biggest thing I took from the limo business and put into the motorcoach business is the professionalism of it,” Kaplan says. “In limo, there’s more ego and higher expectations. In charter, our customers are surprised and elated that they’re treated so nicely and everything’s so well taken care of.”
Although A Candies Coachworks has invested big sums on its coaches, Kaplan has recently improved the company’s cost-efficiency by hiring a full-time technician and detailer. According to Kaplan, 70% of the maintenance work is now done in-house.
“If there’s anything wrong when the coach comes in, our technician fixes it,” Kaplan says. “Therefore we have less breakdowns on the road and less travel stress because of it.”
From January 2012 to the end of September, A Candies Coachworks saved close to $50,000 in repairs, and Kaplan predicts the company will save around $80,000 annually going forward.
“If you’re a coach company with eight coaches or more, you have to have your own mechanic,” Kaplan says. “It’s a big piece for your efficiency.”
The next chapter for A Candies Coachworks is expansion, as Kaplan plans to invest in more vehicles and secure more accounts. The company is currently in the process of purchasing five coaches from a local competitor selling its business. Finalizing mid-January, the acquisition will expand A Candies Coachworks by one-third.