Building with Coach Design

By: Chris Thompson

A lot has changed for stalwart Brisbane coach builders Coach Design since the company started building over two decades ago.

Building with Coach Design
It all comes togerther at the Coach Design body building workshop.

Rows and rows of sheds line the road parallel to Archerfield Airport, in Brisbane’s south, mostly housing mechanics’ workshops or transport yards.

Down one driveway, however, is an institution in the Brisbane coach building game, Coach Design.

The company, run by Chryss Jamieson, has been supplying coaches Australia-wide and even overseas since the early 90s.

"Coach Design was pretty much registered in 1986, so we’re actually 30 years old now," Jamieson says.

"We didn’t build our first new vehicle until 1992 because back in that era we had the airline pilots’ dispute, so tourism went down, a lot of companies went broke, and that flooded Australia with a lot of good second-hand vehicles. At that point, body building pretty much stopped."

While the nostalgia for those older Aussie buses is still strong today, tour customers are usually looking for a more modern, comfortable vehicle to travel in.

This is why builders such as Coach Design have managed to beat the trend of a shrinking domestic manufacturing industry.

"Today, here in the frame shop, we’ve just commenced building number 915," Jamieson says. "So, by early 2018, we’ll do our 1000th vehicle which I guess is a bit of a milestone for us.

"We’re getting there faster than we’d thought, we’ve also got Coachworks doing some vehicles for us, and we’ve increased our own production a little bit as well."

Jamieson says Coachworks is primarily helping with the painting process, as that is something which would otherwise drain a lot of Coach Design’s time.



A big time-saver for the business has been the introduction of fibreglass moulding, which Jamieson has just spent big on to update the equipment and designs for.

"We’ve been through a major development change with all the new fibreglass panels we’ve been doing, and we’ve probably spent over three quarters of a million dollars on tooling and development.

"Fibreglass is expensive … but it’s faster – in the old days we used sheet metal but we’ve switched to fibreglass to speed up the process, which is working."

Though it’s not as if there isn’t enough people power to get the job done quickly at Coach Design HQ.

"Like everyone, we started off with only a few guys, but now there are about 50 here, pretty much every one of them a tradesman," Jamieson says.

He adds that, even though he’s got plenty of people on board now, it’s been tough finding skilled workers and tradesmen to join the ranks.

"There were a few years not long ago where no one was taking on apprentices, and now we’re paying for that.

"We just can’t get the tradesmen in here to expand, so you’ve gotta treat the place a bit like a football team."

Jamieson says he’s always hiring young people looking to gain experience in the industry, because it makes it easier for them to work within the company, and easier for the company to keep a steady workforce.

"You’ve got to keep bringing the new guys through, so we’ve got about eight or nine apprentices here – which you have got to do, or you won’t have any men working after that, and then you’ve got nothing."

Additionally, Jamieson says it’s not hard to work your way up the ranks at Coach Design if you’ve got the drive.

At the top of each department within the business is someone who started out as one of Design’s apprentices.

"My production manager was my first ever apprentice, the foreman of the frame shop, the feed shop … all ex-apprentices here who have worked their way through. But two of them are my sons, so they can’t go anywhere.

"I don’t actually want them to feel like they have to stay here because of me – this is my gig, and they should be doing what they want.

"But they like it here, there are a lot of opportunities for young guys here."

By embracing the latest in bus manufacturing technology, Coach Design is forging a new path and ensuring it remains competitive in the years ahead.

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