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StyleRide relishes popularity of special Sovereign seat model

While the Sovereign seat may not be StyleRide’s most popular model, it’s quickly finding its niche in Australia’s luxury tour and charter market

As a local Australian business that has been operating since 1996, StyleRide Seating Systems has had nearly three decades to grow its transport seating catalogue. Following its acquisition by international manufacturer Lazzerini in 2019, StyleRide now has 13 different seating products available to the Australasian bus and coach market.

While its Orion, Aquarius and Protean variations have all proven to be popular throughout school and route bus markets, StyleRide is now finding that a high quality coach seat option is finding its niche among certain operators.

“The Sovereign seat model is more of a bespoke type of seat and it’s performing really well,” StyleRide Seating Systems national business development manager Simon Allen told ABC.

“There’s a factory standard for the model, but the Sovereign is special because it’s built individually for customers and to their certain requirements.

“Whether it be different needs regarding width, length or armrest styles, the Sovereign seat accommodates this to become a tailored option.”

Since joining StyleRide back in May last year, Allen has helped the local seating manufacturer excel from its new site in Acacia Ridge, Brisbane. Alongside managing director Garrin Angel, Allen has focused on customer engagement, with the Sovereign’s tailorable nature quickly becoming a hit among operators.

With StyleRide now having spinoffs of popular models like the Aquarius and Protean seats, Allen has been allowing StyleRide to create a seat with a point of difference. The process of creating a set of Sovereign seats is inherently unique when compared to StyleRide’s other products – the manufacturer will complete drawings and incorporate customer feedback before making the necessary tweaks to provide a finished product that has been developed in partnership by the two businesses.

That’s not the end of the process, with StyleRide then providing a single seat demo model to the customer free of charge to allow them to see, touch and try the seat in person before finalising the design and order.

“We love the process of providing the test models to customers so that they can stick it in a bus or in a foyer to play with and try before buying,” Allen says.

“We don’t mind going the extra yard to ensure customers are happy with the seat we’re providing, with operators encouraged to take their time in deciding which material they want out of leather, cloth or modern synthetic leather. The latter is becoming very popular, so we prefer to ensure the client is happy with what they’re getting.”

The uptake in the Sovereign’s popularity has coincided with certain operators looking to diversify their fleet to provide the next big thing in coach touring. In Queensland’s Redland Bay, Blue Bus Tours is one of many operators who have turned to high quality vehicles to create a tour option that is a step above the current charter offerings.

“At Blue Bus, we provide school runs, charter day trips and extended tours as part of our mix,” Blue Bus Tours owner Geoff Jacob told ABC.

“In the past year, we started designing our own top tour coach, with a vision for it to become one of the most luxurious and accessible coaches available in Australia.”

In the early planning stages, Geoff and his small team at Blue Bus turned to StyleRide for the appropriate seating that would match the high quality interior. The inspiration to go with StyleRide came after Blue Bus bought a second hand coach from Western Australia that featured StyleRide seats.

Positive passenger feedback quickly confirmed that Geoff and Blue Bus were onto a winner in the seating partner market.

“We had to refurbish that entire coach, but not the seats – the passengers loved the seating arrangement,” Geoff says.

“These old models are very comfortable recliners with soft and supple cloth finishing it off.”

Having started in 2002 when Geoff and wife Sandra bought the school bus run contracts on Brisbane’s Russell Island, Blue Bus Tours has always been deeply associated with high quality services. After initially running school buses on the island, Blue Bus expanded to the mainland, with the operator’s headquarters now in Redland Bay.

This expansion to mainland Brisbane has allowed Blue Bus to excel as a tour operator. When COVID disrupted the tourism and charter market, Geoff quickly devised a plan to emerge out of the pandemics with an enticing business offering.

“In 2019 we bought our first business class coach, with the idea being to begin running smaller tour groups that were more comfortable for passengers,” he says.

“As a small family company with high standards, we’ve run extended tours over the country since day dot, but we wanted to change it up and raise the bar even higher.”

Alongside this increased quality for tour runs was an intent to make charter vehicles more accessible. Due to the company’s personal experience with disabilities, the Jacobs wanted to create a smaller tour service that would treat all passengers with the dignity they deserve.

“We figured we may as well drop numbers and make our passengers comfortable so that they’re respected,” Geoff says.

“We believe in inclusive travel, so the premise of the new coach was to allow people with special needs, including walkers and wheelchairs, to fully access the vehicle and tour.”

Image: StyleRide

The configuration of such a coach included the addition of single seats so that solo travellers had more privacy and comfort. This complex arrangement meant Blue Bus Tours needed a seating supplier that would be flexible and open to such changes. The quality of seats that Geoff enjoyed upon buying the second hand WA coach gave him a clear option for a partner.

Geoff went to StyleRide, asking if they could buy a new set of Sovereign seats with updated leather. While StyleRide couldn’t find the plans for the old designs, the team was able to design a new option that fit Geoff’s goals.

“We thought the Sovereign seats looked great – being able to take one home and analyse it was a bonus,” Geoff says.

“StyleRide was fantastic throughout the entire process – they did what we asked of them every time, including adding extra padding, softening the foam and completing little changes to make the best seats that we could’ve asked for.

“In the months since, this luxury coach has completed plenty of tours and there’s been no complaints.”

These business class style Sovereign seats are wider and allow for more legroom, enhancing the comfort for passengers onboard the coach.

“We’ve got other seat brands as part of our fleet of 10 vehicles, but StyleRide’s seats trump the lot,” Geoff says.

“Three of our vehicles feature StyleRide seats and they’re all long distance tour coaches that require the safest and most comfortable models.

“We’re really happy with StyleRide – if there’s ever been an issue, they’ve been on the phone and fixed it straight away. They’re a pleasure to deal with.”

This glowing endorsement hasn’t been the only one for StyleRide and its Sovereign model. Allen says the majority of customers who buy a set of Sovereign seats often come back for more.

“In that long distance luxury coach space, as well as the airport transfer market, the Sovereign is a very popular choice as a point of difference for operators who want to have pride in what they present to passengers,” Allen says.

“The Sovereign is a luxury seat – it’s not something put into a school bus or any coach. It’s for the operators. It’ll never be our most popular seat because it’s bespoke, but it’s one that the discerning fleet or bus owner would ask for to complete a high quality vehicle.”

The Sovereign may not be at the forefront of StyleRide’s sales, but Allen says its popularity is growing as more operators follow Blue Bus Tours’ lead in elevating their fleet quality. This has allowed StyleRide to evolve the Sovereign, constantly creating new models that include additions and extra trimmings.

These demands have kept the local seating manufacturer busy. While continuing to grow the business and expand partnerships with existing customers, StyleRide is also preparing a special surprise for this year’s National Bus & Coach Show in Brisbane.

“We’ll be presenting a new product at the show that we think will be an exciting part of our metro bus range,” Allen says.

“It’ll be a new style of seat, and we’re hoping to be able to show it off in a bus at the event.”

For now, StyleRide isn’t looking at getting too far ahead of itself. As a small to medium local business based in Queensland, Allen wants to continue supporting as many local businesses as possible, including Blue Bus Tours. With the Sovereign becoming a rich source of satisfaction in the bus industry, Allen is hoping StyleRide’s considerate and flexible approach to quality seating will continue to please Australian operators.

“Our focus is to continue growing the business by retaining our existing customers through good service and products while also serving the community with our local supply, manufacturing, support, jobs and content,” Allen says.

“We want to use our local support to ensure customers love products like the Sovereign seat and continue growing around Australia.”

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