#LearningCurve | Change to luxury coach tours pays off

Making challenging jump from family’s taxi business to high-end industry puts Williams firmly in the driving seat

Faheem Williams, of Williams Coach Tours
Faheem Williams, of Williams Coach Tours
Image: Werner Hills

When he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by venturing in to the transport industry, Faheem Williams poured his energy into offering a luxury experience through coach tours and transport.

Since then, Williams Coach Tours has grown steadily over nearly two decades of business.

Can you give me some background on yourself and how you started the business?

I am born and bred in Port Elizabeth. I attended Bethelsdorp High school and furthered my studies at Bethelsdorp Technical college, where I completed my studies as a mechanic.

Since my childhood my family was involved in the bus, mini-bus taxi and taxi industry.

After completing my studies, I set out working for the family business.

In 2000, I decided to go in to business on my own, and bought a few taxis and a bus, taking the family legacy a step further into the luxury transport market.

Although the family business did give me a head start, I soon had my own customer base.

After my dad retired and sold all his vehicles, I decided to take the name Williams Coach Tours, thus insuring the Williams name is carried forward.

What is your core service?

Our core service is buses, for local or international tourists, schools, churches – or basically anyone in need of a bus.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

I would suggest they start small. They need to get the basics right, be dedicated and personally involved, and be willing to work 24/7.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?

Procuring finance and assistance from the bank was challenging.

Being in the taxi industry was more informal, and obviously there is a difference between buying a taxi for R100 000 and a bus for R2-million.

The competition is also quite fierce in this industry.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your day-to-day operations?

Competitive quoting is a challenge, as it’s very difficult to quote with the fluctuating diesel and part pricing.

The uncertainty of the tourist market and budget constraints at schools can also pose a problem.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?

Success is not a right; it needs to be earned through hard work and dedication.

How do you measure success in your business?

I believe success is measured in every trip we do. It’s measured by my staff’s loyalty to this brand, making sure they give their best all the time. The ultimate definition for me is my loyal clients returning year after year. Over time they have become more than clients, and I know that without them we are nothing.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

I think our striving for excellence and our hands-on approach, as well as the fact that we treat all our clients the same, no matter how big or small they are.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Word-of-mouth is currently our largest advertisement. We are starting to market by way of a website and social media. We like to grow at a steady pace, so as not to compromise service to our existing customer base.

What are some of the highlights in running your business?

One of the highlights was definitely being a part of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We transported Paris Hilton at the time. In 2016 we helped to transport hundreds of tourists from the MSC Symphonia to Cape Town when it docked in Port Elizabeth due to storms.

How many people do you employ?

There are 10 permanent employees and some casual labourers as well.

Our drivers undergo specialised training beyond their licences, which include elements of etiquette and customer service, because transporting tourists is not just about driving.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

There is always room for expansion in every company, but this must be within reason and financial feasibility.

I personally like to take things slow and in my stride, making sure I cover all my bases all the time.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?

You need to take baby steps, not leaps.

What has been some of the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?

The greatest challenge is definitely the competition, but as the saying goes “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Teaming up with some of the larger companies has allowed us time to access the market by filling their gaps and attending to our own clients.

What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

You need to know your market. You should offer a personalised service and be hands-on all the time, and in this industry, have good quality vehicles and staff.