John Hill Coach Sales and Services – Celebrating success one year on
John Hill Coach Sales and Services Ltd was launched at the 2013 UK Coach Rally at Alton Towers and after a year in business, I caught up with John at his corporate anniversary event at a sunny Leicester Tigers’ home ground to see what the last year had taught him
John, himself a Leicester Tigers Rugby Union fan, former player and Chairman of Melton Mowbray RFC, decided that submitting a team in their annual corporate 7s event would make for an excellent corporate hospitality event. He has refereed at them all since the tournament began four years ago and this year was no exception. The 12 man strong John Hill Coach Sales team was made up of local players from the Melton Mowbray and Belgrave clubs. Despite a win and several close matches, the team was in a tough draw and unfortunately didn’t make it through to the quarter finals.
Although John’s new venture was launched at the UK Coach Rally, he didn’t actually start selling coaches for another month, but he wanted to use the opportunity at the event because he ‘felt it was a great opportunity to get in front of lots of industry people and potential customers.’
John initially worked from home and started renting his office at the current premises at Melton Mowbray in July. ‘There were too many distractions at home;’ he explained, ‘plus I wanted somewhere to be able to bring clients if needed, although we generally meet on site. It’s about promoting yourself and giving out the right, professional image.’
He soon realised that being a one-man operation was no longer possible and six months ago he took on Alan Wade, a fellow senior official from Melton Mowbray Rugby Club. John sees Alan as his protégé and has enjoyed sharing his vast wealth of knowledge and experience in the coach and bus industry with him. ‘The plan was to keep him for six months and then release him to the industry,’ John joked.
Alan is from a pharmaceutical sales background. I asked him what he thought about the coach and bus industry and in particular, working for a friend. ‘It is completely different to what I am used to, it is a nice industry to go in to as the people are really friendly and chatty. It’s diverse and I am learning lots. I have enjoyed it.’ He pauses, smirks and adds, ‘The environment is nicer and the boss ain’t bad!’
It is clear to see they work well together and despite the banter there is some friendly rivalry between them. Alan has already sold five vehicles but John insists it was a team effort. Alan recalls his first sale ‘It was in February and I had only been here a month. It was manic. The customer was based in Stansted and was looking for a Plaxton Cheetah and had flown to Scotland on business. He landed at 18.30pm and I then drove to Wolverhampton to meet him and show him the vehicle. He took it on a test drive and he bought it. It was a long day.’
I asked him how difficult it was to sell a vehicle to someone who has operated coaches for years. ‘The website helps because they know exactly what they are getting before they come. John constantly tests my knowledge. We will be driving somewhere and he will point to a vehicle and ask me what it is.’ ‘It’s a red bus!’ they laugh in unison.
John Hill Coach Sales have sold over 100 used vehicles in its first year, with John’s personal best being nine coaches in one week. They are well on target to beating the total this year with over 50 coaches already sold, an incredible achievement and one John didn’t expect. ‘I had no concept of how well it was going to take off and certainly didn’t expect it to the extent it has,’ said John.
Surprisingly, only about half of the business comes from John’s former relationships with coach operators. ‘It’s about 50/50,’ he explained. ‘In the first two or three months it was mainly new business.’
John says part of his success is down to the hard work his Leicester based web designers Caged Fish and his web man, Wilf Lewis, have put in to his website. ‘If you Google “coach sales”, we come out first,’ he proudly boasts. ‘We don’t use library pictures,’ he explains. ‘99% of the time, we go down and take the photographs ourselves. That way we can see what condition the vehicles are in and be honest. We usually take between 12 and 15 pictures where possible and aren’t afraid to say if it has blown windows or rust. We want people to say “they were honest and did a good job” and we have had many positive comments about the website.’
The website is very user friendly, clean, simple and easily navigated. Vehicles are split in to coaches, buses and minibuses for sale with a featured coach that changes regularly.
Impressive statistics show that average hits are 5,000 per month with a very low bounce rate and potential customers looking at up to eight pages at a time. They continue to sell used coaches for Irizar and Ian Hall, Sales Director of Irizar UK, who attended the event said, ‘In a year, John has established himself as a bona fide used coach dealer that operators can deal with, with confidence.’
John’s stock list currently sits at around 100 vehicles, some of which are buses and minibuses, but with the core of his vehicles remaining coaches, as the company name suggests. There aren’t many vehicles that they will turn away. ‘We will look at anything and advise accordingly,’ John explains. All vehicles are HPI checked and John actively encourages the operators to clean the vehicles before he photographs them and to have them running when he brings a potential buyer. The coaches that he sells are all ‘runners’ that have come to the end of their life with that particular operator. ‘Because the vehicles have been recently operated they are fresher,’ says John, ‘We have a good turn around time so the vehicles aren’t sat around not moving. That way there is less chance of things like wiring corroding, bits rotting and mould forming.’
In addition to the vehicle sales side of the business, John Hill Coach Sales also offer a range of professional services to the industry, which include procurement, valuations and consultations. I asked John how the services side of the business had taken off. ‘We have had a number of enquiries for us to source vehicles and we have done full inspections of vehicles before, where we have been on our backs beneath the chassis looking for corrosion, oil leaks, that sort of thing. We regularly get finance companies approaching us for prices. A lot of people have no realistic idea of the value of a vehicle. It’s difficult because a vehicle is worth what somebody is prepared to pay for it and often what the operator wants isn’t realistic and we advise that. It’s about finding the round peg for the round hole and that is what we do.’
John admits that they are not afraid to research and seek someone else’s advice regarding valuations, often, only to find that they are the same as he had anticipated.
The inability of the potential buyer to obtain finance has prevented some deals from completing. This has proved very frustrating when so much work has been put in but there are no immediate plans for John Hill Coach Sales to offer finance themselves.
John’s plans for the future may include buying vehicles and this is something that he is currently looking in to. There are also plans to add video clips of some of the vehicles, particularly the featured coach but as John explains, ‘I didn’t realise how well it was going to go, it’s great having Alan on board but I like to be out of the office and we need more help. We are currently looking for an office administrator to help lighten the load.’
They continue to promote themselves with on page advertisements (see page 27) and John has also invested in a large stand at this year’s EuroBus Expo. ‘I have had a really nice, professional looking stand designed where we can entertain clients. It is all about perception. It is important that people see me as a professional in the used coach market. I’m not a one man band.’ As the majority of the business is based in the south of the country, John hopes to expand his operations further north.
I asked John what the last year had taught him and what he would have done differently. ‘The trust that people have had in me has been great and it has gone better than I could have imagined. I have proved myself but I need to work smarter, not harder. We offer a good service but I want to make it even better and I will be able to do this when we have the new administrator. At the moment we are reactive and deal with what’s in front of us.
When you are in a large company, everyone has their own role and when you are a small business you don’t have the help of administrators and accountants. This job has released me back in to an area which I feel most comfortable and there is no bureaucracy. I am giving people something they want. It’s also about re-educating the operators a bit and getting some of them in to the 21st century, it’s not easy.’
‘Dealers don’t want part exchange vehicles, by coming to me I can get you a better price on the vehicle you are selling and the one you are buying and this has been proven time and again.’
Paul Hockley, MD, Redwing Coaches said, ‘I gave John four coaches to sell which he sold quickly and professionally. He does what he says he can do. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him and I will be putting more business his way later this year.’
To find out more about John Hill Coach Sales, visit their website at:
John Hill: 07885 912510
Alan Wade: 07715 905509