What's two years between friends?
Since I last wrote this blog I have sold my bus company, taken up permanent employment at Wellglade and moved to Nottinghamshire.
It was never particularly my intention to stop writing but things have been busy to say the least. And at times a bit traumatic.
The sale of Velvet was the dominant theme of 2014, proving to be a difficult and protracted process. The story didn't end with the sale either. As has been well documented, the new owners took the company in a disastrous direction and sadly it met its end earlier this year. One day I might write the story of Velvet, not least because it is important to keep in mind that we had five very happy years that were memorable for all the right reasons, but that is not for now. There are still too many things that I cannot say at the moment, for legal reasons or simply to protect the sensitivities of those who have been affected by the demise of the business.
For now, it is onwards and upwards as I embrace my new role as Group Development Director for Wellglade, the group best known for trentbarton buses but also incorporating TM Travel, Kinchbus, Notts and Derby and Kleanline, as well as being joint owners of High Peak with Centrebus. Indeed, one of my responsibilities is to sit on the Board of High Peak on behalf of Wellglade, albeit not involved in the daily running of the business.
For the most part, I divide my time between running TM Travel, for which I am now wholly responsible, and providing support to the rest of the group - predominantly trentbarton - with commercial and business development projects.
As an interesting sideline, I have also assisted in the creation of a new company - Find My Bus Ltd - set up by web developer Joel Kidd to produce apps and websites for smaller and independent companies. Joel designed the Velvet website and realised that there was a gap in the market where smaller companies want to be able to offer their customers technological solutions on a par with, or better than, those offered by bigger organisations, but unable to afford the huge one-off costs usually involved in the creation of apps or websites.
These sites exploit a standardised template design, easily customised for the individual operator, to provide a solution at much lower cost than would be necessary with a bespoke implementation. Cash flow is a critical factor for smaller operators, so payment is on the basis of a monthly subscription model rather than a huge up front payment, and this in turn allows the operator to benefit from improvements and upgrades as they are developed.
TM Travel customers have been able to benefit from the smartphone app for around a year now, and it is on the point of being unveiled for University of Derby students. The key feature of the app is the ability to track the location of buses in real time, following them on the map as they drive along the road. Customers tell us that they find this a massive benefit in having the assurance that the bus is definitely on its way and how it is doing compared to schedule, and it gives them greater confidence than a 'traditional' real time countdown, which is based on predictions which can prove to be wrong.
This has been a very exciting project indeed and there are numerous customers in the pipeline having their sites and apps developed, and of course we'd like more!
Meanwhile, one of the benefits of no longer controlling buses in Eastleigh on a Saturday is that I find I have more opportunities to get frustrated at football matches and this season I have splashed out on a season ticket for my beloved Luton Town. The travelling can be a bit of a chore - living in Hucknall it's a full day out - but it's good fun and I'm hoping that when we romp to promotion next spring it will make it all worthwhile!
Various people at various times have told me I should resume this blog, and now that I'm out of the legal morass associated with the demise of Velvet and I'm in a new groove, it should be much more achievable. Chatting to an industry colleague a couple of weeks ago, I explained that part of the reason for not writing is because so much of what I do is commercially confidential - and I certainly won't be saying anything here that breaches any confidences - but the more we discussed it, the more I realised there is plenty of stuff I can write about that some people might hopefully find interesting, so let's see how we go.
But for a nice gentle start, I might indulge in a modest travelogue, a brief report of a recent trip to Germany and Austria...