Reap the Value and Benefits of Coach Membership

Reap the Value and Benefits of Coach Membership

12 Jan 2024 Posted By Joe Scotting

By Richard Simpson

We shouldn’t be too surprised that trade associations attract only a minority of coach operators as members. Our sector is small, fragmented, and diverse. It’s estimated that only 500 to 600 coach operators are members of any trade body: 15 to 20% of the industry as a whole. And even that figure may be flattering as some operators are members of more than one body.

Fear of change

From the RHA’s point of view, this is both a good and bad thing. Chances are, if you’ve ever had to sit through any kind of managerial training you will be familiar with the SWOT analysis. It’s a matrix used to determine the position of a business in the marketplace and assesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

The relatively poor penetration of trade associations in the coach industry is clearly a weakness, but as is often the case in a SWOT analysis, a weakness is also an opportunity to do better, leading to its possible transformation into a strength.

Operations manager Andy Warrender maintains that RHA Coaches has actually done rather well in boosting its membership into three figures from a cold start in the aftermath of Covid two years ago.

The traditionally poor level of engagement with existing trade bodies from small and medium-sized coach operators at least means there is plenty of opportunity to recruit fresh members and boost engagement across the industry.

Against that there is a perception that existing trade bodies had not served the small and medium size enterprises in the coach sector particularly well; while many businesses feel they do not need a trade body membership because they have managed so far without one.

“Beyond that,” Warrender speculates, “there may be something of a fear of the change that membership may entail. Some businesses may feel that they have bobbed along for the last 20 years or so without attracting the attention of the Traffic Commissioner, and there is no reason to change anything.

“However,” he continues, “it could be argued that across the whole road transport industry the TCs are some of the best recruiters for trade associations. Membership of the RHA as a whole is up by 25% during the past few years, and the TCs can take a lot of credit for that.

“One of the key questions likely to be asked of an operator who has fallen from grace is what active steps they are going to take to keep up with legislative compliance. It’s unlikely that ‘looking through the trade press’ is going to be a satisfactory answer to the ears of a Traffic Commissioner, whereas enlisting the help of a professional trade association might well be."

“We also see new entrants to the industry maintaining that they don’t ‘need’ to be members of a trade association... until of course things go wrong and they realise that they do.”

Strength in numbers

He highlights three main objections to recruitment that he has encountered: cost, perceived lack of need, and perceived irrelevance.

“It’s frustrating; people are looking at cost but not value. Operators who are members and use that membership to the full can get substantial support in terms of services like admin, tachograph analysis, legal advice, fuel cards, and so on, to the extent that membership can be cost-neutral in financial terms, and a real benefit in terms of ‘headache reduction.’

“The perceived lack of need seems only to survive until such time as things actually do go wrong in terms of compliance when the hapless operator actually realizes that perhaps they didn’t know it all after all.

“Lack of relevance is perhaps a harder nut to crack. There is a lingering perception in some quarters that trade bodies generally are little more than social clubs which is perhaps linked to a reality that dates back into the last century, but can hardly be said to be the case today. There’s also a feeling that representation for the bus industry came alive with the break-up and privatization of the National Bus Company, but the coach sector didn’t really buy into that and as a result, was left to sort its own problems out.

“Some of the largest bus companies may well feel that they are big enough to look after themselves with some justification, but that’s certainly not the case in the coach sector, where 85% of operators run 15 vehicles or less. There’s a crying need in this case for a collective voice: and the more members we have, the stronger the voice will be.”

Spring Budget - Insolvencies must be addressed

Decisions at next week’s Spring Budget (6 March) loom large for our industry. Over the past 12 months, we have seen an ...

Abnormal Loads – latest on our campaigning

We collectively convened a working group early last year after operators reported inconsistencies and challenges with ab...

Who wins from PACCAR? Cartelists and corporate wrongdoers

RHA Managing Director Richard Smith tells The Law Gazette about how litigation funding is at risk by recent court ruling...