Red Carpet Tours
I had been working for the Niagara Tourist Service Center (NTSC) for a couple of years. As was usually the practice, I was laid off on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, mid October. My boss took the bus keys, all my paperwork, and anything to finish up the year. Nothing out of the ordinary was said to me as the season was wrapped up. Away I went on a bicycle ride to Florida. My winter of 1985, 1986, was otherwise normal (for me).
In the spring I went to see the boss in early April to get ready for the 1986 season. At that time he NOW informed me he would no longer require my services as he had contracted out, at the end of last season (none-the-less), the bus transportation to another company. They would handle all bus operations. I was not needed.
He did, however, lead me to Mary Chapman, who was looking for a bus driver for the upcoming season. I agreed to go see her. She was the manager of Niagara Falls Taxi and they also owned Red Carpet Tours.
After she fell off her chair when I explained what I expected as a wage, we came to an agreement. I would work for eight weeks. After that she would then start to pay me what she felt I was worth, after the eight weeks, for twenty-two weeks. I would work a total of twenty-two weeks, just paid eight weeks behind, and an amount she felt was my worth over the time period. I received what I had asked for.
I worked for Mary (really Niagara Falls Taxi) for the 1986 season. She laid me off in mid October as was the practice and I went for a bicycle ride.
I came back in 1987 and asked for a fifteen dollar a week raise. Mary agreed right away and I was on payroll right away as well. I didn't need to wait eight weeks. I worked until mid October again. I was laid off again. I went for a Florida Bound Bicycle Ride again.
When I returned to Canada, Mary called and asked me to come see her, which I did.
She advised me that the shareholders of Niagara Falls Taxi, Limited, had decided the tour company was a drain on them, they felt it conflicted with the taxi operations, and they felt the motels might be concerned with a conflict and be sending their taxi business to another taxicab company. The shareholders were concerned that the taxi business be taken care of first. The tour operation could be sacrificed if it meant a better taxi company. The decision was to sell Red Carpet Tours.
Mary then advised me I may, or may not, have a job for the 1988 season. She would try to get whoever bought the company to take me with it, but she had no guarantees. She just wanted me to be prepared and aware of the situation coming up. If the tour company sold, that is.
Over the winter of 1987, 1988, the shareholders of Niagara Falls Taxi and I negotiated back and forth until we signed an agreement effective May 20th, 1988, and I was the new owner of Red Carpet Tours. To find out how I put the deal together, you need to go to how Harvey thinks. I’ll just warn you ahead of clicking, it will cost you for my knowledge.
The first thing I did was to get one of the buses painted a bright, fluorescent, pink. I mean, really, really, bright. I had suggested this to Mary a year ago, but she didn't think the shareholders would go along with it. I knew she was right.
I also ordered a license plate for the pink bus. The license was 'Y PINK'. Remember, we were Red Carpet Tours. It caused a lot of questions, everybody in town knew who we were, and it was definitely an attention getting device. Why Pink?
I'll just add here as well, it took some maneuvering to get that license plate onto the bus. Let's just say we had to take the same 'illegal' approach as the Niagara Parks Commission (an entity of the government of Ontario) had taken. I even had to argue in Toronto to get it done, but I am a results person. In the end I had the 'Y PINK' plates on the vehicle.
We did get attention though. We were the laughing-stock of the city. For about three weeks that is. We then received a phone call and ended up doing a thirty minute talk on three thousand Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio stations across Canada. The cost to us? Nothing. They just had to know who, and why, someone would paint a bus a bright, fluorescent, pink. We never did give an answer, which was part of the strategy.
The color pink became associated with Red Carpet Tours. The reputation of the company became known as quality, value, and service. We soon followed with the expression, "Tour-iffic!" Just ask us how we were and we would tell you, "Tour-iffic!" This also became associated with us. In a short time all of our buses were painted pink.
Let’s digress back to 1987 for a minute. In October of 1987, Mary's husband, Tom Chapman, had passed away. Tom had become a friend of mine, he was a shareholder in Niagara Falls Taxi, and owned a car in the taxi fleet. Mary tried to sell me his taxi business. After all, I might not have a job next year if the tour company was sold. She also tried to tell me this is probably what Tom would have wanted.
I'm not what I would consider superstitious. On Aug 8th, 1988, Mary and I came to an agreement. I wasn't even sure I wanted to be in the taxi business. I just earlier this year had taken over Red Carpet Tours. What was the superstition? Well, someone brought it to my attention later I had purchased Niagara Falls Taxi’s Car number 8, on the 8th day, of the 8th month, of the 88th year. They told me 8 is suppose to be the number of new beginnings. Well for me, it was something new. I was a bus driver for twenty years, never a taxi driver.
Oh yeah. This meant I needed another driver’s license from the Police Department if I wanted to drive the taxi. My bus license didn't count. That's another story for later. To learn about my experiences with the taxi industry, then go to my taxi days.
At Red Carpet Tours we used our creativity, knowledge, and understanding of the industry to maintain a quality standard. Our drivers and guides were taught they had to be the best, no exceptions. The Niagara Falls guest would remember traveling on a bright pink bus. If they had a bad experience, or a problem, they would remember that too. We were forced to be the best. We had to be better than anyone else. We did well.
We did our best to keep improving and giving more value for the dollar than anyone else. We were the first company to include admissions in the price (which hurt us initially), we gave each passenger small gifts, or something they could take home with them, and made sure each guest felt special. After all, they were. They were the reason for our existence.
In 1989 we purchased Holiday Scenic Tours. That’s another plan, another deal. To read about that you need to know
how Harvey thinks. Again, my knowledge will cost you though. Know before you click (well, you can click, but you can't get into the page without paying the fee).
In 1990, Serge Kisluk came to me and wanted me to buy his company, Niagara Vacation Tours. He had been talking to every operator in the city and anyone he thought might like to get into the tour business. Everyone, including me, thought he was asking too much for his company, Niagara Vacation Tours. He would not change his price.
In 1991, Serge was still looking to sell. He wanted to retire. He had passed sixty-five years of age and wanted to get out from answering phones, driving a bus, collecting money, and taking care of the everyday operation of running a company. His price was still the same. I still felt his price was too high, so I offered him his price, but on my terms.
What does that mean? The end result was, I bought his company for six percent (6%)of his asking price. He was happy. Actually, he was ecstatic. How could that be? It looks like I short-changed him ninety-four percent of his price. Looks can be deceiving. Again, if you wish to spend a few dollars, you can go to how Harvey thinks, and get an education of how to buy something with ‘Little or No Money Down.’ Sounds like a Real Estate seminar, doesn't it? You might be surprised of the similarities. The knowledge is worth it. Check it out.
Over the years we continued to grow, continued to offer the most value for the dollar. I had partners join me, and we created other companies for the tax advantages, but really to deal with stupid bureaucracy. The time did come, however, we decided to close the doors, turn off the phones, and let the staff go. It was too bad, but we had to do it.
In 2000 we were paying about $2800 per bus for Insurance. We had been in business since 1988 and had no claims against the insurance company. Our rate really hadn't changed much over many years. Really, we couldn’t remember when the last increase was.
In 2001, the Insurance had to go up. We had been at the same rate for too long. I figured we could stay there forever if we didn't file any claims, but our new rate was $4400 per bus.
In 2002, insurance all over the country, and probably the world, increased. The 'excuse' of course, was September 11, 2001. The terrorists had won. The economy of the world would never be the same. Our insurance for 2002 was doubled to $8800 per bus.
In 2003, it was $11,200 per bus. This was a 400% increase over the year 2000. We were too small of a company for this. Add to that the aggravation of government interference, Ministry of Transportation ‘stupidity,’ and we had about had it. We would get charged fines of $500 because one brake was out by a quarter inch. We had just paid the mechanic $3000 to fix them, and only three weeks after the repair, he didn't get charged, we did.
Enough was enough. Mike and I looked at our profitability, the aggravation factors, and our overall impact. We made a decision. Red Carpet Tours closed in October (as usual) of 2003, and we never re-opened. We are closed to this day. It was a fun ride (get it? ride, bus?) Unfortunately, this also put some fine folks out of work, but they are okay today, I'm glad to say.
Just to understand as well, we didn’t file for bankruptcy, creditor protection, or anything like that, we just didn’t open. We even paid our final phone bill even though we had been closed.
Did this mean a career change for me? Let's try driving a truck. Will that work?
To go back to the main page then go Home.
To go to my biography page, just go to Harvey's bio and if you want the longer biography version then go to the longer bio.
Thanks for reading