Marketing, What's That?
Friday, 24 September 2021
Faced with The Perfect Storm of clawing one's corporate self out of a highly subsidised bus operation under the auspices of the Peoples' Republic of South Yorkshire, of coping with being a business, not a public service, and of the distinct possibility of competition, the arms length South Yorkshire Transport (SYT) had to learn lots of stuff very fast.
A Marketing Manager was appointed! Shock Horror!
In the late sixties and early seventies, a youthful fbb was on good terms with some of the Head Office staff at Sheffield Transport; and on into the very early years of the PTE. He remembers chatting over a glass of lemonade in a local hostelry (OK, half a pint of Younger's Tartan).
"Shouldn't bus operators be selling their product like these new-fangled supermarkets do?" he asked, provocatively.
Glazed and bemused expressions were the order of the day.
One lad proffered "We have the bus guide ...".
Sophie Mitchell, a redoubtable lady of uncertain years, was Miss Bus Guide. She wrote out (by hand) the timetable pages and sent them off to Sheffield Corporation Printing Department for typesetting. The process was similar to the John Bull Printing Outfit of fond childhood memory.
If you wanted a logo, a map or, heaven forfend, a picture, you had to "have a block made". The process was slow but effective and the bus guide (a k a timetable book) appeared several times a year - and it was free. Publicity leaflets were merely pages from the timetable with a heading.
The set-up was similar under the PTE, but the price had increased.
In the early days of the deregulation storm, marketing remained with the PTE as did a regional "saver" ticket!.
Or how about playing Bus Bingo?
Little Nippers proliferated on lesser routes where minibuses (operated at lower wage and running costs) could maintain a good frequency and still make money - in theory!
Sheffielders didn't like the minibi; they were cramped, with no room for shopping bags, and although they were supposedly frequent ...
Bob retired as big boss of Stagecoach a few years ago.
The 25 was suffering from resolute competition from Yorkshire Terrier ...
... and the Stagecoach "Magic Bus" idea was tried - but in purple.
The privatisation via an employees buyout scheme eventually happened, with the help of 20% cash injection from Stagecoach, and the whole company was named "Mainline"; but the challenges continued. No sooner had SYT/Mainline bought up a competitor than another one appeared.
And the Competition Authorities were less than happy that Mainline was destroying "competition" by eating it.
So in came First Group with a big bag of pennies - and the rest is history.
Of course there was no collusion!
The above blog is drawn from snippets taken almost at random from the year by year chapters of the book.
But, be warned, it will take you ages to read it (fbb is on his second reading thereof) because there is so much in it.
To arrange a purchase, please email ...
... and he will organise payment and delivery.
Next Variety blog : Saturday 25th September
Thursday, 23 September 2021
The Perfect Strorm!
It is a "disaster movie", with George Clooney as its hero, telling the tale of fishing boat in horrific weather conditions. The phrase has come to be used for any combined sequence of misfortunes. This picture of two engineers of the newly formed arms length South Yorkshire Transport company (SYT) as they struggle to keep the buses running.
The book ...
Leading up to the dreaded day, 26th October 1986, the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (PTE), who had owned and run the buses in various forms since 1968, had to cope with a whole perfect storm of omnibological weather. Apart from the morass of legal tasks in structuring the new company, they faced huge detailed problems.
They had to register that services that SYT believed it would operate commercially ...
But how do you decide that after a period of heavily subsidised low fares such that ...
No bus services made any profit!
These initial registrations were to be fixed for a year ...
Although there were mechanisms for emergency change!
Fares would need to increase three-fold (at least) to get back to commercial rates ...
So how many passengers would jump ship? They guessed 20%!
Any non-commercial services would have to be tendered ...
Competitive services chewing away at SYT's estimated profit margin ...
Were another area of pure guesswork. Would SYT be under attack?
Large numbers of staff at all levels would be made redundant.Chapter 2 deals with a whole two years when the storm was beginning to swirl frighteningly around SYT's staff and management.
Running extra buses on existing routes
Running minibuses to get closer to customers
Running "spoilers" a few minutes in front of the intruder
When S&D started a competitive service against SYT's service 60 (fbb's former local route, now service 120 ORANGE) ...YELLOW. The 83a did not exist at that time.
... and, over the top of this already frequent service, running a "Little Nipper" minibus to Lodge Moor.
In a similar vein, another new arrival, named SUT, won a tender for a Minibus service to the backwoods of Darnall. This had been Sheffield Transport 46, then 96.
One startup that has survived was Yorkshire Terrier. Its first route was a Crookes and Walkley loop route 15 and 16, mirroring one started by the PTE.
But it wasn't quite the same. One of the shortcomings of many traditional Sheffield routes is that they tended to trundle into the bus station (Interchange) leaving folk with a reasonable walk to, for example, the Moor shopping area. Various newcomers made much of taking passengers where they wanted to go, in the case of the 15/16 via ...
Interestingly, Terrier's second entry into the competitive market still runs today - even with the same route number but just a slight route variation.
Clearly, fbb has raided his own knowledge pluis a small collection of leaflets to augment this book review. That is not to say that the book is at fault - the amount of information contained even in this early chapter is staggering. Vehicle purchase, vehicle allocation, vehicle maintenance and some vexatious industrial relations challenges feature highly in this hugely enjoyable book.
fbb is well aware that most bust enthusiasts will drool over vehicle types, cherishing their knowledge of engine power, transmission types and the need for bifurcated ningle pins in the suspension.
fbb has always been ravenous for details of where and why the buses run.
Tomorrow we take a look at Eager Beavers, fares and special offers; this time via snippets from several chapters.