METRO talked to motorcoach operators from around the nation to discuss some of their biggest challenges, as well as what they plan on doing to grow their businesses in the long run. For the most part, we found that identifying qualified drivers is still an issue, and so we asked our operators what they are doing to combat the issue.
CEO, Silverado Stages Inc.
What is your operation’s biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge we face is having enough qualified motorcoach operators. In today’s world, you have to have folks that are really excellent, not only from a safety perspective, which is number one, but also from a customer service perspective. Those people are really hard to find, especially when you need as many people as we need. It’s just a constant challenge. If you don’t focus on it and put up with some unsafe behaviors, or people who are delivering sub-par customer service, because you need bodies, that effects everything.
How are you handling this challenge?
The way people look for jobs now and make decisions on where they are going to work has changed with the advent of the internet and social media. We have had to change how we go about getting applicants. It’s a funnel. If you need 25 drivers, you probably need 300 or more applicants to find those 25 that are going to become the real stars. You have to generate a lot of applicants, and then, how you screen them and bring them in into your organization has to be well thought-out and structured, so that you do end up with the best people in the end. There are some pretty interesting things you can do now with tech and social media to generate applicants, and we were generating a lot for a while, but we weren’t seeing the flow we had hoped for.
Recently, we streamlined our application process to limit the amount of information we ask for to pretty much a phone number. We then have dedicated staff that calls every applicant back as quickly as we can, which has really worked well for us. People don’t want to have to put in too much effort, they would rather you did all the effort, and really, we have to make that effort. By making those phone calls, we were able to capture people on a greater scale and were able to feed that funnel better than we were before. It was a real ‘a-ha’ moment.
The other thing we have done is increase pay. The industry has to do a better job of recognizing the need for a career wage for motorcoach operators. If you look at it, wages have been on the decline since the 80s when the industry was deregulated. It is a tough business. It is hard to make a profit and driver wage is a huge expense for us, so we are always careful about how we manage that. On the flip side, if we want to have the best people and retain them than you have to pay them something they can live off. We have pushed very hard to be on the top end of the pay scale in the markets we serve, if we possibly can. Drivers are the most important people in your company. They are the only people the customers see when they are on the coach from our company, so that person has to be the best.
Since joining the company a couple of years ago, what have you brought to the table?
The culture of putting the driver first — that is really the culture I’m pushing. Also, it’s a 24/7 business and it can really be a grind sometimes, but we also like to have fun. We are respectful to each other and professional, but we also have a good time. Work doesn’t have to be drudgery. We have nine different locations, but we are pretty tight knit. We talk often, and during meetings we will recognize birthdays, anniversaries, and employees who provide excellent service. We really try to create a family atmosphere as much as possible. That has always worked for me. It’s a people business all the way through. You have to like people, enjoy being around them, and socialize and build relationships. It’s a very important part of a culture that I have always tried to foster wherever I have worked.
Where do you see your operation in five years?
We have grown fairly quickly in the last few years, mainly through acquisitions. We are still digesting and finishing our strategy for bringing those companies together under one brand, which is Silverado Stages, and everything that goes with that. We are pretty close to being finished doing that, then we will have to see where we go next. There’s some consolidation going on, regionally, and we keep our eyes out for anything that is going on, but we are not aggressively looking to continue to grow.
We are an ESOP company, with the employees currently owning about 14% of the business right now. We need to continue to push that and move more of the ownership of the business to the employees to help our owners Jim and Sharon Galusha execute their strategy, which is to leave the business to employees since they don’t have any heirs. We are not on any self-imposed deadline and remain on a steady pace. So in the next five years, I anticipate that we will be able to continue to grow. We might do some smaller acquisitions here or there, if that makes sense, and just continue to try to focus on trying to shift the ownership over to the employees over the next five years as best we can, which is based on profits that we can generate through the business. In five years, hopefully, we will have more than half the company owned by the employees.