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Bus and Motor Coach Library

Marketing Your Services to the Military – Part 1

Author - Brian J. Niddery (2005)

The transportation of military personnel by commercial carriers is extensive.  When you consider the major forces that comprise the Department of Defense (DoD), the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, the Coast Guard, both Active and Reserve operations, the DoD represents the bus industry's single largest client.  As such, it represents a valuable opportunity for the fleet operator who is prepared to earn this business. 

At the outset it should be pointed out that there is a need for virtually every type of passenger vehicle, and not as some might believe, only motorcoaches operated by large fleet operators.  The military requires the services of everything from taxis, limousines, vans, shuttle buses, paratransit, to over-the-road motorcoaches.  Their needs are varied and extensive; from interstate transportation, transfers to and from airports, between facilities, to and from military exercises, and redeployment and postings.  In short one might say Uncle Sam needs your services!

So what is the value of this business, and how does one go about soliciting military business?  Firstly it is important to have an understanding of the nature of the military and its needs, and secondly the process involved in qualifying as an approved carrier. 

Over and above the obvious volume of business that the military represents, there is another important benefit that will accrue to a fleet operator who successfully qualifies as an approved military carrier.
The qualifying regimen is founded upon two principles - Safety and Reliability.  The military has a primary responsibility to move their personnel safely, and personnel must be transported on time, every time.  Aren't these exactly the same attributes that are also most important to civilians - the public at large!

There is no doubt that the qualifying process is rather comprehensive.  It is based on an Operational Model.  It consists of several stages, including a pre-qualifying application and an on-site facility inspection.

Something like 40% of all applicants fail to make it through this qualifying process.  For those who do, there is a certain confidence in knowing that their operation provides a high quality of passenger service, that their facility and equipment is well-maintained to a proven high standard, and that most likely they are managing an operation that is both cost-efficient and market competitive.  That's a pretty good recipe for success.

Is it a tough standard to meet? Robert Watkins is Vice-President of Transportation Safety & Security, for Consolidated Safety Services (CSS).  CSS is the contracting firm that is charged with the responsibility of inspecting new carriers on behalf of the military, and ensuring that existing carriers remain compliant.  He answers this question thusly, "We want to know that a carrier's safety record is something they have achieved by design, not by default, so we focus on the carrier's Safety Management Controls.  So for those carriers who demonstrate the requisite knowledge of the requirements, ensure their proper execution, have effective management oversight, and the proper levels of accountability, can normally pass the inspection easily."

Pass or fail, it allows the opportunity for a manager to measure his or her operation against an operational model - an ideal standard if you like.  This qualifying process will provide a valuable analysis of your present operation, how it stacks up against this operational standard, and it will detail exactly the steps one must take to improve the quality of one's operation.

So we might look at this qualifying step in another way – as a management consultant would. Management consulting firms also provide this same kind of service, except that they charge big bucks for this service.  By the mere act of going through this qualifying process, the Department of Defense is providing you with the step-by-step outline of the standards that you need to achieve in order to become a first-class bus operation - an operation that is safe, reliable, cost-efficient, and competitive.  And not only is this service provided at no cost to you, but in qualifying, you also open the door to an additional source of new business.

A centralized group within the Department of Defense has been established to manage the transportation needs of all military personnel.  This group is known as the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, or as it is more commonly referred to, its acronym the SDDC.  This is the command group that is charged with the responsibility to move the nation's military personnel where, when and as required.  And this is the group to which all passenger transportation companies must present themselves to become an approved carrier of military personnel.

At this time there are about 435 approved bus carriers on file with the SDDC.  And this number has remained relatively constant now for a number of years.  However the people at SDDC would like to see an additional number of bus carrier applicants, and a consequential increase in the number of approved carriers.

Among the 435 or so approved carriers are a number of Trailways affiliates.  The military has long been a valued client for many of them, so much so that its board of directors has recently mandated that every affiliate must become SDDC approved, in order to maintain their Trailways affiliation. 

As CEO, Gale Ellsworth explains, "Passenger safety has been a hallmark of Trailways' service reputation throughout nearly 70 years of existence.  Safety remains our number one priority in the transportation environment."  She goes on to point out, "We know companies which maintain these elevated safety practices, are at the pinnacle of the motorcoach industry's safety standards in their day-to-day operations, year-in and year-out." 

Gale also commented on its strategic value to the Trailways system in terms of its current and future expansion goals, adding that military business already represents a significant percentage of their network's current revenues.

Other approved DoD carriers have cited the same important benefits - including the added credibility one gains as an approved military carrier - in terms of it being an excellent selling tool and certainly a wonderful reference in the eyes of any new client.

In terms of potential revenue, military business will naturally vary according to many factors, such as fleet location, region, the number and size of military installations within a given region, and the transportation requirements of any given military installation.  For example transportation requirements of a training base are usually greater due to a higher and constant turnover of personnel. 

It is important to note that qualifying and getting your company on the approved list is certainly a very good first step.  However, as in any sales function you must also get out and meet your new clients.  It's a matter of identifying what military facilities are located in your region, what kind of services are needed by each of these facilities, and getting to know the commanders and their traffic personnel in these establishments.

If you would like more information on serving the needs of the military contact the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command.  Go to www.sddc.army.mil, or you may contact the Passenger Programs Branch, SDDC at 703-428-3275.