2015 Innovative Operators: Blue Lakes Charters and Tours

Posted on January 5, 2015 by Kelsey Nolan, Assistant Editor

Value-added customer service is a driving force for the company, particularly in regards to clients who make use of Blue Lakes’ bus wrap service, which the operation will cover the installation costs for.
Value-added customer service is a driving force for the company, particularly in regards to clients who make use of Blue Lakes’ bus wrap service, which the operation will cover the installation costs for.

Blue Lakes Charters and Tours, headquartered in Clio, Mich., is a third generation family-owned and -operated bus company serving Michigan and northern Ohio and is the largest privately-owned charter bus company in Michigan. According to Dave Cupp, president, the company’s bread and butter is charter bus trips for a number of various organizations, but is also able to offer package tour deals and custom bus wraps for client advertising.

Additionally, Blue Lakes has dedicated line-run services to hotspots and 25 to 30 cities throughout Michigan and northern Ohio. The company has also secured a contract with Walmart to offer free line-runs to Walmart’s patrons six days a week.

Since the company began in 1989, Cupp explains Blue Lakes has been dedicated to customer service.

“If you don’t give customers what they are looking for, they aren’t going to be a repeat customer. That’s where we focus a lot of our energy,” he says.

According to Cupp, success can be attributed to offering value-added service, being family-owned, taking care of employees, embracing technological changes, and the continual update of its fleet — with the addition of four new midsized buses and eight new buses, a mix of Van Hools and Ameritrans, being delivered over the next three months.

Value-added service is a driving force in the company’s customer service, particularly in regards to customers who make use of Blue Lakes’ bus wraps to advertise their companies, such as Walmart or the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Rather than charging clients an extra fee on top of the cost of the wrap, Blue Lakes covers the cost of installation.

“If that advertising is successful, those customers are going to keep booking buses with us. It’s another reason companies deal with us,” Cupp explains.

Mixing business and family can be tricky to navigate, Cupp says, but being family-owned has provided Blue Lakes a leg-up in the bus business. There is someone involved in every element, dealing with different facets — from maintenance to safety to sales to dispatch. “Family involvement really helps us have our thumb on the industry,” Cupp says.

Though being in a seasonal industry and having locations outside of the large metropolitan areas can be a challenge to retain staff, Cupp says the company has found a niche with people who already have jobs with odd schedules, such as firemen, who drive in their off-time.

All employees get a newsletter every two weeks with their paychecks about what is new in the industry so they can stay current. They also receive educational bulletins and attend semi-annual safety meetings to learn how best to deal with customers and remain safe. Seeing drivers on a day-to-day basis also allows for an open communication between employees and management, Cupp says. Taking care of the company’s employees, training them well and making sure they are professionally uniformed is what keeps customers coming back.

Since Blue Lakes has nine locations, remote access to company information is vital. Almost 10 years ago, the company switched from paper dispatching to the Internet-based software Motorcoach Manager, which has helped the sales and dispatch departments become more streamlined and efficient.

Since each location handles its own dispatch, and the main office handles the bulk of sales, driver routes and scheduling can get confusing. But since adding the software, the Internet access has allowed employees to view bus availability, work remotely, and assign bus routes and drivers accordingly.                       

Internet-based phones also allow for customers to not only work remotely, but also the potential to live remotely. This asset enabled a valued employee of Cupp’s to relocate to Florida while remaining a member of the team.  

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