Crown Coaches 50th milestone

By: Randall Johnston


Having notched up half a century in operation, Crown Coaches’ innings has been built on foundations of family, maintaining good relationships, and innovative services

Crown Coaches 50th milestone
Past and present employees, industry partners and suppliers gathered to mark the occasion of Crown Coaches 50th birthday

 

ABC attended the 50th anniversary celebration of Victorian operator, Crown Coaches, and found that even after half a century its core values have not changed.

Past and present employees, industry partners and suppliers gathered to mark the occasion with a black tie dinner on a balmy night in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

Even Mayor of the City of Whitehorse Denise Massoud was present, along with husband Mark and at least 100 other guests.

All attendees at the celebratory dinner were supplied with a copy of the second edition of the Crown Coaches story, Driven by Passion, which was filled with some superb photos and recollections from the past 50 years in business.

Company director Julie Haoust was first to speak at the event.

"It has taken guts, courage and a lot of mental toughness, not to mention long hours," she says.

"It’s taken a lot of hard work from so many good people, like our general manager Ian McKean, who has been with us for over 35 years now.

"We have taken on the opportunities and possibilities as they arose in order to get us to where we are today".

"It is our passion for life and passion for the business that has seen us through. Our success in business is due to making great decisions. We needed good advice and the very best information to progress.

"We have assigned Mercedes and BCI to provide the very best and safest coaches available to us. All our suppliers and business partners have played a massive part in our success."
Managing director Vic Haoust says that after 50 years in business there are a lot of stories to be told and much to be thankful for.

"The secret is to have good managers, and have good people around you," he says. "I’m just so proud of my children Renee and Jerome for coming on board to be part of the business.

"I have so much love for my family and I’m so appreciative of the work they put in at Crown. My wife Julie has been with me the whole way through all the highs and lows.
"I made a choice in 1981 to build a new Mercedes on a 1617 chassis and at that point we decided to have Mercedes in our charter fleet. 

"Nowadays we only operate the 0500RF range of Mercedes-Benz, which is the best that they have and we value this partnership.

"Today Crown Coaches operates 10 environmentally friendly Euro 6 coaches that are wheelchair capable.

"A lot of our work is with the Department of Education, contracted school runs that run in and out of special development schools, and we take a lot of pride in that work.
"The bus industry is one where you’re quoting against your competitor, but when the chips are down you help each other out.

"If you’ve got too many jobs you give one to the company you are quoting against and that is very rare in any industry."

 

One proud GM

General manager Ian McKean says it’s been a pleasure to  work for Vic and Julie and to
see how the company has  grown, particularly over the
last three decades.
"I’ve worked with some real characters over the years," he says. "The whole family’s passion and dedication to the business is unwavering.

"Victor is one of my best mates and always has been. Owning and operating a company of our size isn’t easy and it’s incredible how well our system works.
"Our schedulers and booking staff are fantastic. Obviously our drivers and workshop staff are the backbone of the business.

"I’m looking forward to the next generation of the Haoust family and the future with Jerome and Renee.

"I’ve been with Vic and Julie for more than 35 years and they really have been great employers to work for – it’s like being part of a family. We have drivers who have been with us for 20 years and more and we have husbands and wives, sons and daughters working side by side."

 

Equal access

Crown Coaches has a number of Victorian Government Department of Education contracts, which are services that require both a driver and a supervisor on board. In meeting the requirements of special needs schools, quite a number of these vehicles have wheelchair access.

The fleet size is currently sitting at 141 with a total of approximately 250 employees, including disability supervisors.

The large coaches are all Mercedes-Benz, along with some Hino vehicles
(wheelchair accessible) and the mini-buses are predominately Mitsubishi Rosas.

The organisation also specialises in charter, tours and private school transfers and runs, plus inbound and corporate events and tours.

"The Department of Education contracts and the education sector for charters are our core business," Crown Coaches business development manager Ivan Furlanetto says.

"We are seeking growth with the schools and we are confident this will continue by identifying specific needs and fulfilling them. The school clients demand good service and reliability.

"I believe the quality of our service, our systems, policies and procedures along with our passion is what sets us apart."

The organisation also provides a number of school services for secondary colleges in Melbourne’s inner east, including a number which have a history of more than 35 years.

Crown Coaches has its own workshop with eight mechanics, an upholsterer, two paint and panel personnel, and its very own spray painting booth.

"We do everything in-house now, except for glass and air-conditioning. Doing it that way is just a lot more efficient."

 

Family feel

Victor’s son and daughter, Jerome and Renee Haoust, are strongly involved in Crown Coaches. As executive officer, Jerome says the company supports a lot of community projects and he feels helping out for a good cause is important as a bus operator.

"We do the Whitelion Three Peaks event and we donated a bus to the organisation last year to help them deliver their youth outreach initiatives," he says.

"The bus comes back here for servicing every now and again, so it’s an ongoing commitment that we’ve made to them."

The Whitelion Chatterbox Bus operates outside Flinders Street Station in Melbourne’s CBD as a service for homeless youth. It is essentially a mobile drop-in centre, offering material aid such as food, clothes, internet access, or just a hot drink for people living on the streets.

Whitelion also works with people in the youth justice system to open doors to opportunities, positive relationships and community connections.

"The Three Peak event is great," Jerome says. "Participants climb all three of the highest mountains in Australia in one week as a fundraiser.
"We also support the Melbourne Weekend to End 

Women’s Cancer, which is a 60km two-day fundraising walk. Crown Coaches provides mini-buses to pick up those who run out of puff.
"We have had a team of co-workers participate for the past two years, fundraising more than $31,000. "We also support the Swinburne University formula SAE electric race car team."


Humble beginnings

The story of Victorian school and charter operator Crown Coaches shows how one battling family half a century ago started working with its loyal co-workers to produce what has grown into successful business today.

In January 1967, Victor senior and his wife Joyce put down their life savings as a small deposit and purchased route 608 from the Hoare brothers, for whom he had been driving route services since 1960. He was 46 years old.

His 21-year-old son, Victor junior, then returned from a working holiday in New Zealand to assist his father in running the business.

That same year, Victor senior and Joyce officially registered their bus operation as Hawthorn Bus Service.

At that time they had just three old Bedford buses to service the busy route.
Sadly, Victor senior passed away in 1968, just one week after his son Victor junior and his partner Julie got engaged.

After his father’s tragic death, Victor junior, aged 22, took the reins and became the youngest bus operator in Victoria, which was a lot of responsibility for such a young man.
Joyce continued to do the clerical work. For near two years, Vic’s cousin Stan came to help with driving and maintaining the vehicles. More buses were acquired and the business grew from there.

Victor and Julie were married in March 1970 and later had two children, Jerome and Renee, both of whom grew up fully immersed in the bus business and today are now dynamic and innovative executive officers of Crown Coaches.

They are also the directors of a progressive, customised transport software company, Evident Solutions, which is a separate enterprise that controls Crown’s impressive IT capabilities and is building a strong reputation within the Australian bus and coach industry.

In 1972, Julie left her job as a secretary to help her husband with the business and, at age 22, became only the second woman in Melbourne to become a licensed bus driver.
From there she moved into the administration side of the business.

Always the innovator, Victor had two-way radios installed in all his buses by 1971 and was reportedly among the first bus operators to do so in Victoria. This has always been Victor’s modus operandi.

The business operated out of a BP service station in Camberwell initially until moving to Caltex up the road and then for two years at unserviced land at the Hawthorn Tip.

In 1976, at last they could purchase their first and fully fledged depot on Burwood Road, Hawthorn.

The years that followed saw major expansion as the organisation purchased bus companies in Melbourne’s east and started running services in Box Hill, Doncaster and Balwyn.

 

School contract focus

A turning point came in 1987 when Victor modified a bus to carry passengers with disabilities, complete with a rear-side mounted wheelchair lift. From this point on, disabled school contracts and special charter jobs became a major focus for the company and it gained a large number of contracts from special needs schools.

The boom in this aspect of the business, and changes in the way the Victorian Government wanted route services delivered, led to a decision to sell off all the route services – to concentrate primarily on school and charter work.

In 1987, Ventura purchased all of Victor’s route services and the company took ownership of Ventura’s depot in East Burwood. At that same time, the Crown Coaches name was adopted. The organisation moved to the East Burwood depot in 1989.

The fleet of wheelchair-accessible buses grew rapidly and the education department contracts kept flowing in.

The Burwood depot served the company well for a long time, but was jam-packed towards the end, so the organisation moved to its  much larger current depot in Nunawading in August 2005.

Its current depot is well positioned but it, too, has nearly reached its full capacity as the business continues to expand.

Crown Coaches is now 100 per cent focused on school, charter and tour work, and specialises in transport for special needs schools.
Corporate charter and tour work for some of Melbourne’s major and most famous events is also a key part of the company’s operation.

Crown Coaches’ 50-year anniversary celebration was well attended and the Haoust family is clearly passionate about the Australian bus industry.
The milestone serves as a reminder of just how far you can get in business with the right attitude, respect for others, and a whole lot of determination and innovation.

 

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