Finding new routes to revenue sources

Established in 1947, Eyre adds services to stay competitive

Business profile Eyre Bus Service

July 19, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Eyre, the bus and travel company based in Glenelg, has changed a lot since Harry and Mary K. Eyre started it with the purchase of a used school bus in 1947.

Now, the company is run by Ron Eyre (pronounced "air," an important fact for all the puns that the Eyre family invents). Ron is the son of Harry and Mary. And down the road, Ron's son, Matt, is poised to take over.

The company, on Triadelphia Road in Glenelg, has two divisions: Eyre Bus Service, which provides commuter and scheduled bus service; and Eyre Tour and Travel, established in 1983, which is a full-service travel agency.

The company has about 120 employees and more than 40 state-of-the-art buses that take customers on organized trips to see Broadway shows, gamble at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, sight-see in Pittsburgh or attend the Philadelphia Flower Show. The buses range from VIP executive coach with leather seats, a refrigerator and tables to the more common 55-seat coaches, equipped with digital video disc players, restrooms and plenty of air-conditioned space. The red-and-white buses all say "Travel on Eyre."

Last week, the company added Friday-through-Sunday service to New York City, offering the only such service departing from Howard County.

With the service, known as the Eyreliner, customers pick up the bus at Eyre headquarters (known as the Eyreport) at 6 a.m., or at Long Gate shopping center in Ellicott City at 6:30 a.m., arrive at Broadway and West 51st about 10:30 a.m., and return to Howard County by 11 p.m. The cost is $59 for customers arriving and leaving the same day -- much cheaper than the cost of gas and tolls to make the trip by car and a fraction of the price of taking a train.

Eyre has suffered a series of setbacks over the years. Business dropped off considerably after Sept. 11, 2001, because people no longer wanted to travel to New York or Washington, two of the company's most popular destinations. Skyrocketing fuel and insurance costs also have hurt the company's bottom line.

About two years ago, the company lost its contract with the county, under which it had provided daily commuter service between Columbia and the District of Columbia for 32 years.

"That was a major blow to us," said Matt Eyre.

Added his father: "It was 50 percent of our revenue."

Forced to make changes, the company is finding new ways to attract business. "We needed to be more creative," Ron Eyre said. "We needed to look at other revenue sources."

One new offering is the ride to New York, which the Eyres hope to expand to seven days a week. Another is a new business-to-business division, which allows companies to use Eyre buses to ferry employees to outings, meetings, training and other events. "We're trying to focus more on businesses," Matt Eyre said.

Eyre was founded in 1947 with headquarters in the Eyre family home in Daisy, a tiny Howard County town near Lisbon. Because the first bus was red and white, those became the company's colors, Ron Eyre said.

Gradually, the family acquired more buses and started a charter service that took people to such places as Atlantic City, N.J., and Coney Island, N.Y. Back then, of course, buses had no air conditioning or restrooms, noted Ron Eyre, but that did not stop people from taking Eyre buses to the beaches.

"When we kept growing and growing and growing, we bought the property next to our house, which was the Daisy one-room schoolhouse," Ron remembered. In 1983, the company moved to its current location in Glenelg.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, says a company history put together in 1977 to celebrate 30 years in business, the company had six school buses and four coaches.

Over time, the charter business grew. Eyre sold its last school bus in 1978. Now, the company provides buses for school field trips, but does not have regular school-bus routes, noted Matt Eyre.

In a "memorabilia cabinet" that contains models of Eyre buses and old brochures, Ron Eyre finds a tour brochure from 1975.

"Oh, my goodness, look at the prices," he says. A trip to Hersheypark, Pa., including admission was $16, the Philadelphia Flower Show was $13, and a weekend of skiing in the Poconos, including six meals and lodging, was $116. These days, the flower show trip, by way of comparison, is $65, including admission to the show.

Ron Eyre, 60, remembers helping with the company when he was as young as 13, mostly cleaning buses. In 1972, he began working for the company full time, and in 1990, he and his brother, Tom, took over from their parents. Tom retired eight years ago, selling his share of the business to Ron.

Matt, 31, has been with the company six years and is vice president. His father, who is president, hopes he will take over as early as next year. "To think it would continue to the third generation," Ron said. "That's a remarkable achievement."

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