Bus and Motor Coach Library

Industry Suppliers Still Aren't Getting It Right!

Author – Brian Niddery (2003)

It seems to me that too many industry suppliers - from bus manufacturers to those supplying tubes of lubricants and everything in between - are still putting far too much effort and marketing resources into chasing the larger and higher profile bus fleets.   It is quite natural for their sales people - those who derive their income through commissions, to put the bulk of their time and effort into the larger fleets.  However, too many marketing and sales managers tend to think along similar lines.  The result is that many suppliers over-direct their marketing/sales efforts towards the large fleets, and often ignore or hardly acknowledge the existence of small-sized fleets.

Yet the mainstream of the bus industry is comprised of small fleets.  Let's look at some numbers.  Industry surveys show that of the 3,000 estimated fleets currently operating motorcoaches, less than 150 of these have more than 50 coaches.  Similarly of the 1,200 or so public and community based transit systems throughout North America, less than 125 of them can be considered as "major" size transit properties.
The remaining 2,850 motorcoach fleets and the 1,000 or so transit agencies are relatively small operations.  Added to this are the nearly 4,000 bus fleets that we have identified through our databases engaged in the many other facets of bus passenger services.  The North American bus industry therefore consists of perhaps 275 "major" sized fleets and more than 7,500 "smaller" fleets.  These numbers strongly indicate that "small" fleets indeed represent the largest potential of total industry sales for most industry suppliers and manufacturers.

Often when I mention this to industry suppliers they invariably respond that they do put the required effort into reaching smaller fleets as well as larger fleets.  But smaller fleet people tell me quite a different story - so much so that for many it has fostered a perceived notion of a "them" and "us" mentality. 

Not long ago in a conversation with a small fleet owner, he told me about his experience in purchasing his first brand new motorcoach.  At the time he called each of the major coach manufacturers.  Two of the manufacturers never did return his call, and another took about a week to get back to him.  In perceiving a general lack of interest by these manufacturers he simply settled on ordering a new coach from the one whose manufacturing facility happened to be nearest to his operation.  Since then he has bought nearly a dozen more coaches from this same manufacturer.  I have heard countless other stories by other small fleet owners and managers about the rarity in which they are contacted by industry suppliers and their oftentimes complacent attitude when contacted.  There is a common feeling among many small fleet operators that "we're not important enough" to industry suppliers.  If these perceived notions are accurate, then I say that there are a whole lot of industry suppliers who are missing out on a great deal of opportunity and a ready source of potential sales. 

Additionally, today's fleet operators, whether transit or private, specialized or vocational, are more closely matching bus units to service application and operating need - hence almost anyone in any facet of the industry can be a purchaser of almost any type of bus model and the needed services and parts to match.
The bottom line message is clear - look at the bus industry as more than 8,000 potential customers, and not just the 200 or so major players!