Coach company boss answers the questions
Having celebrated its 20th birthday this year Prentice Coaches is investing for the long term. Around £400,000 has been spent on fleet improvements. Here director Ross Prentice tells us a bit more about the East Lothian company.
What do you do?
Based in Haddington, we are a family run company providing high quality coach transport throughout East Lothian, Edinburgh and beyond to leading schools, businesses and community groups.
Where did the funding come from and which organisations have supported the business?
We were fortunate to secure bank or asset finance at the start up stage, and have exclusively used Stoke Park Finance for investment in our continually upgraded range of vehicles.
Who are the key people in the business?
My father, Don, and I started Prentice Coaches in 1991. Today the company is largely run by myself and our manager Duncan Ritchie.
What is unique about what the company does?
We offer an unusually wide variety of coaches to suit every occasion – we currently offer 24, 33, 51, 57 & 70 seat coaches. Due to our ethos of continually investing in and upgrading the fleet, our coaches are always high quality.
What has been the single biggest investment?
We have invested over £400K this year in upgrading the fleet. The single largest investment was our latest full size coach, a ’60 reg’ Volvo B12B Plaxton Paragon 51 Seat Executive Coach, to the tune of £264K.
Has there been a key moment or turning point?
In the mid nineties, we started getting a consistent brand and look to our coaches. With the same livery, style and signage, Prentice Coaches began to be a clearly identifiable company on Lothian roads.
What is the business plan and how does the company intend to grow?
We are fortunate to enjoy excellent feedback from our loyal customers, culminating in our being nominated and shortlisted for a prestigious industry award this year. We will be striving to improve on service all the time and keep exceeding the expectations of our existing customers, as well as attracting new ones as the company continues to grow.
Do you have any non-executive directors, mentors or key advisors? Who are they?
My Dad – who is semi-retired now but still offers invaluable advice, gained from more than 40 years in the coach transport industry.
Who are your key customers/what are your key markets?
We are proud to serve a range of respected clients including East Lothian Council, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Erskine Stewart's Melville School and Loretto School. We’re keen to expand in all areas of coach hire, particularly the all-important educational and corporate markets. We are also exploring the potential to develop gaps in the tourism market, so watch this space.
Does the company have international sales or does it intend to grow internationally?
Our international market comes from incoming tourist and student groups – there are lots of opportunities to provide tours and day trips, and we’re looking into how to capitalise on this further.
What has been the best achievement so far?
We reached the final seven of the prestigious RouteONE Coach Operator of the Year award, which is a brilliant accolade. But the best achievement has to be reaching this 20 year milestone – the culmination of years of hard work, building a quality team of people and developing relationships with long standing clients. In the current climate where the coach industry is facing so many challenges, we recognise that survival is in itself a huge achievement.
What has been the biggest hurdle which has been overcome?
Achieving brand awareness takes time and patience in the early days so that was a hurdle – but with determination we finally came to be recognised as an established, credible company. More recently, soaring fuel costs have presented a major challenge – it’s seen many coach companies sadly give up the ghost, but we have found ways of overcoming this to date.
What will the next 12 months hold?
Consolidation. We have invested heavily in top of the range new coaches, and our margins are being squeezed by high fuel costs and cost cutting competitors. Our response to these challenges is to improve our vehicle fleet, customer service and client satisfaction levels even further.
Where do you want the business to be in 10 years’ time?
It’s about quality over quantity. We will strive to be an even better service, with improved vehicles and an extensive offering of options to a wide range of clients.
If you were given £1million to invest in the company, how would you use it?
Retire! Or more seriously, clear existing commitments and invest further in our premises and vehicles fleet.
What's the best part of running a business?
Having autonomy, determining the quality of service on offer and having the opportunity to play an important part in our valued local community.