While competitors in the north west of England have discounted their prices to stay afloat, coach transport operator Belle Vue Manchester Ltd has bucked the trend and moved into niche markets. With the marketing techniques the company has learnt from Digital Lighthouse they expect to make an extra £275,000 in sales from those niches in the next 12 months.
“Other operators who are the same size as our business – our local competition – are competing on price,” reports Phil Hitchen, who alongside business partner Ian Bragg is Managing Director of the Manchester-based company. “Those operators are suicidal really. They’re not even clearing costs in some cases. They’re shrinking their fleet by 30% and cutting their garage overheads. They’re very unsure about the future and they’re panicking.”
By comparison, Phil and Ian will be experiencing growth of about £500,000 per annum in the coming year and are about to expand their fleet of 34 executive coaches, school buses and minibuses with eight new start-of-the-art hybrid vehicles, taking the fleet size to 42. The new vehicles were acquired as part of some new school contracts that were awarded in the past six months. The sales value secured is £225,000 per annum over five years and by using some Digital Lighthouse techniques this will increase to between £400,000 – £500,000 per annum for work acquired in between the school contracts.
“With the marketing we’ve learnt from Digital Lighthouse we’re securing other work for all our vehicles which means coaches and buses which may have sat idle at certain times of the day will now be hired out.”
They put their success down to the fact they decided some time ago to move into niche markets where customers weren’t so price conscious.
“We are currently niching our business and shifting away from the regular transport movements where we have to compete on price,” explains Phil. “We now have five niches – a Yellow School Bus Service, Wheelchair Accessible Coaches, Double Decker Coaches, Vintage Buses and Vintage Bus Restorations.”
While their competitors are likely to see their margins and market share slip after discounting, Phil expects Belle Vue’s turnover to increase by over £400,000 to about £2.5 million in the next 12 months, and its profit to more than double to £300,000.
What’s more, once Phil and Ian have implemented all they’ve learnt from Digital Lighthouse, Phil expects Belle Vue will become the clear leader in each niche market.
“Before we joined Digital Lighthouse we were probably recognised as the market leading Yellow School Bus service in Greater Manchester. With the help of Digital Lighthouse and [web marketing expert] Dan Priestley in particular, I will without question be the key person of influence in our industry and that will position us as the company to do business with. We will blow some of our competition away.”
Phil joined Digital Lighthouse primarily to improve Belle Vue’s online marketing strategy but overhauled the entire operation as a result of what he and his staff have learnt.
For the past four months, Phil has attended as many Digital Lighthouse seminars as he could and then taken everything he’s learnt (sales, advertising, copywriting, PR, offline marketing, social media, writing and publishing books, producing videos and DVDs, online web marketing including Search Engine Optimisation, website building and content management, people management including iMA Profiling, and telephone and networking skills) and applied it in the business.
“We wanted to understand the strategies, assess the business, see how we could use those strategies in the most cost-efficient and fastest way without causing any massive damage or change to the system,” says Phil. “We’ve done that and we’ve got a clear, defined plan for the remainder of the year.”
Phil was so determined not to miss any nugget of information he even interviewed the seminar presenters as well.
“The speakers are all proven business people who’ve all had success in what they do. They excel at marketing,” says Phil. “I think the most impressive thing I’ve learned came from Dan Priestley. His strategies about polishing our pitch and getting joint ventures were mind boggling.
“The past four months in my eyes have been about building foundations. Rather than building a skyscraper on a poor foundation, we just put a six foot fence around the company, like you would on a construction site, and just drilled into everything to find out what was good and bad, how well the staff were producing, and what message we were delivering.
“It’s helped us to make decent strides in our market in the north-west compared with our competition. Before Digital Lighthouse we had some success with Pay Per Click campaigns and we had some success with our website. But we’ve learnt so much more about online strategies in terms of phrasing keywords and in terms of long tail searches.
“My nephew John Hitchen who also attended the Digital Lighthouse classes built about 230 landing pages based on certain long tail search phrases which are starting to come to fruition. Some people might search for ‘coach hire in Manchester’ but others might put in ‘coach hire in Manchester travelling to Birmingham’ so we thought of all the most popular places and put those long tail search phrases in and so when anyone searches for those phrases, we come up near the top of the page. On organic searches, we’re now second on the first page. Before we joined Digital Lighthouse, we were in third or fourth place.
“We’ve started to optimise our websites. We’ve set up two or three new websites which are more professional looking, a lot more dynamic. We’ve optimised some of our Pay Per Click campaigns and created email campaigns with relevant copy.
“We’ve put quality control systems in place to ensure our fleet is top notch and that’s being developed into an ISO9001 quality accreditation kite mark.
“We’re now giving customers on all our services an after sales form so we get more testimonials and reviews on Google. We get a huge number of testimonials anyway but this new system will accelerate the process 50 times once it kicks in starting in September after the drivers are shown how to ensure we get the feedback.
“We’ve started to interact on a small basis in social media which is raising our brand awareness; I’m just about to bring out our tips booklet; and we’re making four videos – two of which are complete and just about to be launched.”
They’re also creating a new cost-effect company brochure based on the advice of Digital Lighthouse presenter Steve Handisides.
While the management team has always had a good relationship with the staff, they have adopted some Digital Lighthouse strategies to improve it even further.
“We put a suggestion box in our canteen to show staff we’ve got bigger ears for any requests or suggestions they have and how much we appreciate their input. If they suggest something and we implement it they get satisfaction from the knowledge they’re helping to grow the organisation. We also reward staff on an ongoing basis.
“We’ve also improved our recruitment programme which ensures we continue to attract high calibre staff. We have introduced iMA profiling [personality profiling] for people applying for new jobs with us so that we can communicate more effectively with them.
“We have also developed a new induction and training programme where all new staff are inducted into our health and safety programme and then complete a training programme. It will ensure that all our new staff are ready to begin delivering an excellent service.”
Phil and his co-director Ian are now poised to launch a new service and will use all the Digital Lighthouse tactics at their disposal to make sure it’s a major success.
“With the techniques we’ve learnt from Digital Lighthouse we can certainly guide our ship through whatever stormy waters we encounter on the way to our destination.
“Once we fully understand and apply ALL the things I have learnt, we will take off on a fantastic level,” says Phil, adding: “Then the reasons for me joining Digital Lighthouse – to make more money, in less time and have more fun, to spend more time with my new wife and start a family, and to pitch the business for a sale one day – will be realised.”