Friday, 24 September 2021

And Two Turn Up At Once (5)

Marketing, What's That?

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.

Except it used metal type rather than rubber!

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.
The last timetable book appeared in 1985; a service never to be repeated!

In the early days of the deregulation storm, marketing remained with the PTE as did a regional "saver" ticket!.
But clearly the new company would need to do something special to keep its customers happy and prevent their straying to the competition. They had a slogan!
Hmmm? They had pin badges ...
... and even adverts on the telly!
The above is a page from the staff magazine, "Transyt" ("Transit" - geddit?) which only lasted a couple of issues. There was a promo bus which toured the area, promoting the "stability" and "heritage" of the new company.
There was even the revolutionary idea of advertising buses on the bus!
If you are facing competition, a good idea is to ensure that your passengers don't just go with you, they come back. So, tada ...
... return tickets. This valid marketing device was always rare in municipal or urban operation, but holds on to your passenger when there is side-by-side competition. 

Or how about playing Bus Bingo?
A series of on-the-road brands also emerged. For the busy cross-city routes there was "Mainline" ...
... in striking red and yellow for Sheffield ...
... less striking blue and yellow in Rotherham and ...
... very un-striking grey in Doncaster. The book tells us that the Donny management were aghast at the garishness of Sheffield vehicles and vowed to have something more "distinguished". In the end they just looked tatty!

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!
Then who should arrive at management level in Sheffield but Bob Montgomery, fresh from "Little Buzz" in Manchester ...
... but he had a bit more hair then. He was a vehement enthusiast for minibus operations in the style of Harry Blundred (of fond (?) Devon general fame) and arrived full of determination to convert busy "Mainline" routes to very high frequency minibus services.
Eager Beavers arrived on the cross city Route 52 - but soon departed!
Sheffielders didn't like the minibi; they were cramped, with no room for shopping bags, and although they were supposedly frequent ...
... they were famed for clustering in little bunches followed by anything up to a 15 minute gap. It doesn't take much nous to interpret the authors' attitude to Bob the Minibus Man's policies as being less than enthusiastic.

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.
According to our authors in review, the colour faded quickly and they, once again, looked tatty.
And so the battle, the turmoil and the commercial uncertainty raged. 

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.
Very soon, the region's favourite became a different sort of "favourite", namely the one we love to hate, and Sheffield settled down to boring barbie, no innovation, no marketing and poor publicity.
There was competition, sort of, between First and Stagecoach, but you would hardly notice it. Stagecoach would increase its fares and, lo and behold, a few weeks later First would increase its fares. Then next time it would be the other way round.

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.
It is published by The Omnibus Society at £29.50 and worth every penny. (Easy for fbb to say as his was a generous gift from a good friend!). The book is hardback with 260 pages (excluding the cover) in full colour.

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 

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