At Lucketts Travel we provide transport solutions for holidaymakers, day-trippers and corporate clients of all descriptions. In the last few years the business has undergone a technological transformation far beyond what most people would expect from a business in this sector, but it is helping us stay ahead of the competition.
Lucketts is family owned and has its origins in the 1920s, founded by my grandfather, and now my brother Steve and I are in charge. We have set the business on a path of modernisation, which has helped to move it from a scattergun approach to a more grown up, professional strategy.
The business has always been evolving. Since I joined in 1985, for example, it has developed from a mixed travel and logistics business with about a dozen coaches to a much bigger ‘passenger logistics’ SME with a fleet of 130 vehicles and about £21 million in annual sales.
Acquisitions in the 1990s and more recently in 2012 have broadened the business and we now also do private hire, school contracts, traditional coach hire and more. We work for National Express and have just signed a great deal with HSBC for an office relocation.
To win these bigger contracts we have to show our credentials, as they all come with all kinds of pre-qualification requirements and stipulations. By professionalising the business and putting all of the necessary steps in place we can now compete on the main stage.
We are more corporate in our outlook and have invested heavily in compliance, customer service, HR, sales and operations. The cornerstone of this transformation has been technology, which is something that might surprise a few people. Along the way we have had great advice from a business growth consultancy called Elephant’s Child. They helped us to develop our IT infrastructure in the best possible way.
When I joined we had a system called Coach Manager. We still have the same system today but it is obviously a lot more sophisticated than in 1985. Back then it was DOS (disk operating system) and had a basic menu-based system, but it still gave important structure to our sales system.
We had just one computer for the whole company and most of the work was still done on paper. We had to book “computer time”, which now sounds very old fashioned.
Over the years there were seminal technology moments, such as buying a second computer, networking them together and sending an email from one to the other for the first time. But now we have a full IT infrastructure with sophisticated communications, tracking systems and the latest software.
We are trying as much as possible to use the cloud to create efficiencies. This allows our team to work on constructive tasks such as quality control, making sure contracts arrive on time and keeping customers happy, rather than spending hours on piles of paperwork. Because of cloud, our employees can also work remotely and access our internal systems wherever they are.
We recently moved to Microsoft 365, which is the cloud Office suite, and Sharepoint, which is a team-collaboration package helping people work on projects simultaneously and in real time. We also have Qlikview, which helps us get a better understanding of the data we produce.
To put it simply, we want take our business information – which is contained in pockets – and turn it into business intelligence by collecting it together and learning what makes the business tick.
When it comes to the fleet itself, we’ve been tracking the vehicles for about 14 years but initially we didn’t really know what to do with the information. Now we use it in all kinds of ways, for example by using websites to discover if jobs are available where our coaches end up so that vehicles don’t always travel back empty.
All this upgrading has been a significant investment of time and effort. We have recruited a lot of people to fit with the new structure and goals of the business and we are still integrating the existing workforce into the new ways of working. But it has been worth it.
We think of it as taking a single step back in order to jump forward and we’re confident we’ll see further benefits in coming years with bigger, better contracts and the ability to deliver work in a way that exceeds customer expectations.
To other businesses thinking about investing in communications and cloud software I would say do it now. You simply must transform because business doesn’t stand still. You might last a few years but soon your rivals will catch up.
Even a start-up with a good web designer can create a professional website that makes them appear a bigger business than they are. This alone could convince their first new customers to switch. You have to think of ways to keep one step ahead and keep innovating to create the best possible products and the most efficient business processes.