Bus and Coach NZ Ltd

The road to success

  • Bob Gordon-Stables knows better than most the importance of being willing to adapt and change if you want to have a successful business.
  • PwC has been involved with the evolution of his business, Bus and Coach NZ Ltd, which specialises in new and used buses and recreational vehicles (RVs).

RVs are in Bob Gordon-Stables’ blood. His grandfather commissioned the world’s first recognised leisure caravan, his father built caravans after returning from the Second World War, and he owns and operates one of New Zealand’s largest importers of new and used buses and recreational vehicles. You could be forgiven for thinking that with such an impressive history, Bob would find it easy to rest on his laurels. Not so, he says. “Consumer expectations are always changing and we need to change what we’re doing to meet the market. We’re constantly looking for ways to diversify – always looking for new opportunities.”

Bob started out selling cars in Fitzroy, New Plymouth. He used to travel to Japan up to eight times a year, buying cars, trucks and buses at auction. Eventually bus imports replaced cars and trucks, and when the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2008 came into force they had been importing 25 to 30 buses
into New Zealand from Japan per month, supplying the transport and motorhome industry.

The law change necessitated a change in tact. Most of the buses Bob had been importing from Japan did not comply with the new emission regulations. They had been exporting buses to Australia and had a close relationship with BCI Australia Ltd, who developed the BCI range of buses built in China. “Designed by one of the top Australian bus engineers who oversaw all construction using galvanised steel, European engines and Allison automatic transmissions from the USA, it was a no brainer to take on the New Zealand distributorship for BCI buses, which filled a very large gap in our business at that time.

“You need to look at other opportunities. When times got tough, we just didn’t stop. I had always done a little bit of work with motorhomes and had begun building them into the buses we were importing from Japan before the law change. Three and a half years ago we began importing motorhomes from Europe and two years ago we became the sole New Zealand agent for Tribute Motorhomes. Recently we’ve become distributors for Coachman Caravans and Roller Team motorhomes from Italy,” he says.

Changing gear

While change has largely been good for his business, Bob admits that it has its challenges. “The world today is a very different place than when we started. Technology is so fast, so quick, so dynamic. Vehicles today are typically computerised and this comes with its own challenges. People expect things to last forever. New technology is more complicated, it’s harder to fix if something goes wrong. It’s harder to diagnose the problem.” However, Bob says changes like these are some of the most exciting things about being in business.

Bob still loves coming to work every day and moving the company forward, and at 65, he still has a lot to offer. He and general manager Craig Hanover, recently designed a new centre engine 53-seater bus for BCI NZ Ltd, which has been very successful in the 18 months it’s been on the market. He’s not sure what the next steps are for Bus and Coach but recognises he’ll have to slow down sooner or later. Going off his enthusiasm and success to date, we’d put our money on it being later.

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