Not far from Disneyland, Garden Grove, Calif.’s Pacific Coachways Charter Services Inc. got its start serving tourists in the area with four leased buses in 1989. Now, it provides “all things charter” with 22 late-model coaches and school buses, and has grown into a father-son business.
“When I had the opportunity to purchase the company in 1989 I had a partner,” explains Pacific Coachways’ President Tom Giddens. “When he left in 2000, my son, Michael, who had been working in the business since he was 14, started to take on more, even though he was still a little young. We’ve been a family business ever since.”
With Michael now in place as GM, the company offers corporate charter services, airport shuttle and transfer services, school activities travel services, special events travel services, and more, while focusing heavily on continuing to diversify their business.
“We don’t focus on any one base, and instead, try to keep our business as diversified as possible,” Tom explains. “A good example of how diversification has helped us was after 9/11 when our tourism business was down, we still had a good base of school work, which really kept us going during that time.”
In addition to a vehicle fleet with an average age of four years, Pacific Coachways has its own maintenance shop to make sure each vehicle is well maintained and ready to go.
When asked what they feel makes their operation unique, though, the Giddens explain that it is the high level of customer service their drivers provide to customers.
“The biggest interaction a customer is going to have with our company is with the driver, so we want to make sure they are going to have a good experience,” Michael says.
Because of this, Pacific Coachways will hire based on personality versus prior experience and train drivers from scratch for their school bus division, where the company maintains School Pupil Activity Bus (SPAB) certification.
“Of course it is easier to hire drivers who are trained and ready to go, but if we find the right person, we’ll bring them in and train them and help them get the certifications they need,” Michael explains.
Tom adds that when hiring drivers, whether they are experienced or not, the company is picky on who it selects.
“When we hire somebody new, I believe it is somebody we are comfortable riding with ourselves and not just somebody that can get the bus down the road,” he says. “When somebody walks in the door for their first day of work, we have actually seen them several times before. Often we’ll see them repeatedly over a span of several days to make sure they are going to mesh with us and match the culture we have implemented here.”
In addition to extensive training for new hires, Pacific Coachways also trains its drivers throughout the year to be sure they are maintaining their high level of customer service and continuing to operate safely when out on the road.
“In addition to safety meetings, classes on different topics, and behind-the-wheel training, we also will share feedback we receive from customers with our drivers and use it to help train them as well,” Tom explains.
After being in the bus business for more than 40 years, Tom says the ways the industry has changed the most are increased regulations and the growing use of technology. As part of keeping up with both, Pacific Coachways has implemented the usage of Zonar Systems Inc. Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports, which have increased efficiencies and helped the operation stay in compliance with federal and state regulations.
“It used to be that we were dependent on the driver to appropriately fill out, not only the daily log, but especially the seven-day log, and let us know if there was an issue,” Michael says of the company’s move to ELDs. “Now, we have full view of everything and don’t have to rely on the drivers, which allows us to see possible issues coming down the road and plan accordingly.”
“ELDs have really helped our drivers to make sure they are within their hours of service, and I think, it actually gives them more time because they are tracking quicker and more accurately,” adds Tom.
Enhanced online presence
To increase business, Pacific Coachways recently revamped its website, where it tries to always keep fresh content to help boost its organic traffic. It also increased its online marketing program on both Google and Yelp, which has helped increase the number of leads Pacific Coachways receives both online and by phone. Michael explains that the company’s increased digital imprint has significantly impacted its bottom line.
“Every year since 2010 has been ‘our best year ever,’ but last year we had about a 15 percent increase in business, year-over-year, which shows what we’re doing has really helped,” he says.
In addition to everything they do for their business, the Giddens are also extremely active members of the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), American Bus Association, Trailways, and the International Motorcoach Group. Tom also served as president of the California Bus Association for six years and still serves on the board of directors.
“It’s very important for everybody to be involved, especially in their state association,” he says. “Operators in every state, like here in California, are facing regulations that will impact them directly. By being actively involved, it allows you to sit at the table and share your point of view with legislators.”
For their attention to safety, excellent customer service, involvement in the industry, and more, Tom and Michael Giddens were named METRO Magazine’s 2017 Motorcoach Operator of the Year. The Giddens received the award at the UMA Expo in St. Louis in February.
“It’s a great honor to be recognized for doing a good job,” says Tom. “Our goal is always to give the customer the best experience possible. It may not always happen, but we try our hardest every time.”
“We do definitely try hard,” adds Michael. “We try to be the best at everything, and know there are a lot of good operators out there, so it’s always nice when we receive any kind of award or recognition.”