FlixBus USA CEO Seeking Operator Partners in Key Markets
After the last two years of travel downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, FlixBus USA is preparing for the tourism and travel industry to return very soon.
The national intercity bus network anticipates the first wave as early as March.
“Our working assumption is that demand will come back and we want to be there when demand comes back. And for that, we need a lot of buses all over the country,” said Pierre Gourdain, CEO of FlixBus USA, in a recent conversation with News on buses and coaches from his office in the San Francisco Bay Area. “If you are an operator and want to participate in the great recovery of the travel industry, chances are we have work for you. It’s a good time to join us because there are still opportunities.
A Flix team will be at the UMA Motorcoach EXPO in Long Beach, Calif., February 23-26 to answer questions from operators about what a Flix partnership looks like.
Bringing a successful model to the United States
Gourdain, who grew up in Paris, was tasked with replicating his success in Europe – where he led the company’s first international expansion into France, Belgium and Spain – in the United States.
Since FlixBus USA arrived on the West Coast in 2018, the company has grown rapidly with its bright green bus. In less than a decade, its parent company FlixMobility has grown from a German startup into a global bus and train transportation network.
In the United States, the parent company of FlixBus USA shocked many when it bought Greyhound, the ailing former bus network, last year. So far the operations are separate and serve their different markets, and Gourdain said his leadership does not extend to Greyhound.
Flix appeals to racers who want to buy tickets online, while Greyhound caters to a more traditional crowd who prefer to buy tickets in person with cash. The routes are also different. Greyhound has longer routes with fewer stops, mostly in dense urban areas, while Flix has shorter routes with more stops.
“I think you can have a business and have many brands and be very successful with each one in its own way,” Gourdain said.
He says his goal is to expand the FlixBus network in the United States. To meet demand, it needs more buses. In recent months, the company has announced new stops across the country.
Search for partners
In some places where Flix has operated, like Los Angeles and Seattle, existing partners will add more buses. But in key markets – New York, Boston, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Reno, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Richmond, Virginia – the company is looking partners.
Traditionally, the company likes operators to seek partnership, but due to anticipated rapid customer demand expected to begin as early as March, Flix is actively recruiting partners.
The distinction between a partner and an entrepreneur is that a partner is expected to actively participate in its success rather than responding to requests for directions.
“The type of partner we are looking for are entrepreneurs. We are looking for people who deliver what they say they will, who know how to run the buses efficiently and who know how to maintain the buses well,” Gourdain said. “We’re also looking for a willingness to take risks and invest in the right things. Partners must have an established business as this is a significant investment for a fixed price itinerary. »
Gourdain said that as part of a partnership, the Flix team will spend time with operators to teach company strategies for developing successful routes and to provide driver training.
“We have accumulated so much experience working with each of them that we now have a good idea of how we can fix things that are not working well. It gave us the ability to sometimes act as advisors to our partners,” Gourdain said.
But he added that Flix was also eager to learn from his partners.
“Our partners come to us with a lot of good line ideas. We like to brag about our quantitative sense and the quality of our data to plan routes, but in reality, many of the routes you see on the network are from our partners. »
Don’t fear inflation
Flix has seen a downturn like the rest of the bus and coach industry, but Gourdain argues the business model offers operators the chance to take their business to the next level.
He sees a silver lining in rising inflation which is causing a lot of panic.
“We are seeing signs that people traveling are willing to pay even a little more for tickets to travel again, so the unit economy has improved,” Gourdain said, adding that inflation, in particular rising gasoline prices, coupled with warmer weather and pent-up demand as COVID-19 recedes, will increase bus travel in the coming months.
“With the sunny season starting again, you’re going to see an onslaught of demand,” Gourdain said. “We expect Easter to have higher demand for us than before COVID. And then, of course, we expect a very strong summer.
Appeal to consumers
This increase in demand will be stimulated by the restarting of the flow of global travel. With Flix now available in 30 countries, it’s often the first choice for foreign travelers to the United States due to their familiarity with the service.
“So it’s a really great opportunity,” Gourdain said, noting that Flix’s population — in the US and other markets — tends to be young and feminine, and drawn to the quality of the experience. transport associated with affordable prices.
The model also appeals to drivers, who appreciate the schedule predictability of a Flix route that allows them to plan their free time. This in turn helps Flix retain its employees.
“With Flix, you have buses that run all year round, so your business also becomes more robust,” Gourdain said. “You can spread your other costs over a broader revenue base and become more competitive. You also learn new ways of doing things. You learn to think about revenue per mile and a new way of working. »
He recommends operators interested in speaking with the Flix team at EXPO to do their homework first.
“Listen to what others have to say about us and watch our network,” Gourdain said. “I was in LA last week and met one of our first operators in the US. They were very, very happy with the FlixBus experience. I see a lot of happy partners in the US”