Friday Flashback: Deluxe in the tropics

By: Gordon Lowe


Promoting the ‘Johnny come lately’ coachline on the Brisbane to Cairns route, Deluxe needed a strategy to counter the parochial attitude of Queenslanders, as Gordon Lowe recalls.

Friday Flashback: Deluxe in the tropics
When Deluxe hit the road, the company’s usual formula of providing top quality equipment and cut price bus fares didn’t make much of an impact in Queensland initially.


When premier Motor Service executives Greg Abel, Kevin Eke and I launched our company’s Brisbane to Cairns service back on September 1, 2000 it was a relatively easy task compared with the same exercise for Deluxe back in the heady 1980s.

Although a bit slow to start, Premier Motor Service received quite good acceptance from the industry thanks to the efforts of Greg and Kevin, who called on agents up and down the Queensland coast. On my part, I had a good promotions and advertising budget to work with which established our brand image very quickly.

In 2007, Premier Motor Service was running a daily service between Brisbane and Cairns.

During those heady times working for Deluxe, there were a lot of negatives, which had to be overcome.

Firstly, there were already four established competitors on the route and all were doing quite well on this highly profitable sector. The Brisbane to Cairns route is usually profitable because of the ‘pick-up and setdown factor’ whereby people are hopping on and off the coach, staying a day here or a day there because of Queensland’s many tourist destinations and attractions.

When Deluxe started their Brisbane to Cairns service, entrenched operators had almost a mandate to the route network.

Companies plying their trade on the Brisbane to Cairns run included Sunliner Express, Ansett Pioneer, Greyhound (then owned by Russell Penfold) and McCafferty’s. McCafferty’s had the lion’s share of the business at that time because of their longevity in the industry and the fact that they were Queensland owned and operated.

 

Slow start

When Deluxe hit the road, the company’s usual formula of providing top quality equipment and cut price bus fares didn’t make much of an impact as it did in other states. The then Queensland Manager for Deluxe Coachlines, Keith Weinert and myself discovered that an interesting phenomenon was taking place.

Nobody wanted to become involved. In fact, we became known as the ‘Johnny come lately coachline’.

Even travel agents weren’t prepared to book seats on Deluxe initially — preferring to book the established operators.

In such a competitive and crowded market we were, at the start, skating on thin ice. We had to make it work because of the company’s large investment, not only in people but also in coaches to service the route. With Keith on my side we knew that somehow or another we would find a solution.

Keith was a very skilled administrator whom I respected and admired and with him on board I knew that we would be able to overcome the opposition.

Like all coach companies, there wasn’t a large advertising budget, so we had to look at other means to try and get everyone on side.

After a while we quickly identified the problem. It stemmed from the parochial nature of Queenslanders in the early to mid-1980s that it was better to support the home-grown companies’ and the lack of trust in the ‘Johnny come lately coach company’.

Something had to be done and it had to be done fast! If the public wasn’t coming to Deluxe, then Deluxe had to go to the public so as to quickly expand the company’s brand image.

Apart from a flurry of normal promotional activity which we kept generating up and down the Queensland coast, Keith and I hit on the idea of taking an actual coach to the people — a bit like the radio stations of today, who take their heavily emblazoned logo painted broadcast vans out to the public. How did we do it?

We contacted every Queensland show society up and down the east coast of Queensland and somehow convinced most show societies to allow us to place a coach on display in the showgrounds as each show came online.

What a successful project this was! On many occasions, coach captains were allowed to drive their buses around the show rings as a sort of ‘victory lap’ if you like. Deluxe coach captains loved it and so did the staff! Rockhampton As I recall, on another occasion, McCafferty’s who were well entrenched in Rockhampton, were getting the lion’s share of the sales in that area and Deluxe was only receiving a trickle of bookings.

 

Rockhampton

Again, drastic action had to be taken. It was once again, a case of taking Deluxe to the public. So what did we do? Keith and I quickly purchased a couple of plane tickets, flew to Rockhampton, and hired a function room at Duthies Leichhardt Hotel. Deluxe was famous for its travel agency functions back in the 1980s.

I calculated that Rockhampton agents would not refuse the offer of attending one of our famous functions. So, we invited everyone we could think of, including local media, travel agents, hotel industry people and frankly anyone that came to mind.

The Rockhampton function was a huge success, but that still wasn’t enough to break the McCafferty’s stranglehold. They were so much in front of us because they had well established premises, a large driver base and, I dare say, other personnel in the area — and they didn’t want to give away market share easily.

To reinforce the industry function at Duthies Leichhardt Hotel, I had to come up with something else that would impact on the town, and would focus and impact directly on Rockhampton residents. To do this, I enlisted the services of an unusual ally — the local Toyota dealer.

Again, by a stroke of luck, I guess, we were able to get this highly respected Rockhampton motor dealership involved. Having already sent a coach up for this purpose, the dealer allowed us the opportunity of providing free rides around town on the half hour — so that locals could enjoy and appreciate the luxury of an air-conditioned Deluxe coach. This was made so much easier as the Toyota dealership became our base for the free rides.

It worked extremely well for us and the Toyota Dealer — as it not only channelled people into the dealership, but it worked well for Deluxe as we were associated with such a reputable business in the Rockhampton area.

People flocked to go for the free rides = — and overnight our brand image became established — thus breaking the McCafferty’s stranglehold on sales out of the Rockhampton area.

From that moment on, the nexus was broken, and Deluxe became, virtually, a household name. The bookings came flooding in. The first company to fail on the route was Sunliner Express. By 1989 Deluxe had 311 Queensland employees. There were 228 based in West End Brisbane, 17 at Yeerongpilly, 49 in Townsville, six in Cairns and 11 in Surfers Paradise. By 1989 Deluxe was operating fi ve services a day each way between Brisbane and Cairns.


 

 

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