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 Life begins at 80 — by Lisa Arnseth

Busride June 2004

The month of June brings with it images of blooming flowers and sunny skies. In New Britain, CT, the month has special significance this year to the bus industry, as transportation icon DATTCO, Inc. turns 80 years old in a flurry of community activities and company growth.

In 1924, the company was founded as a local transit and charter bus service. In 1962 brothers Edward and Louis DeVivo purchased the company and merged its operations with a local school transportation operation. Later on, they added a sales and service division as the company grew into the 1,200 employees-strong corporation it is today.

The three main divisions of DATTCO are School Bus Contracting, which pulls in the majority of the company's business; Motorcoach and Tour & Travel Group and the Sales and Service Division, which each contribute equally to the yearly gross profit margins. The company has been a strong presence on the roads of Connecticut for years, but they have also managed to become true friends of the community through a combination of down-to-earth management, support for charity and community service.

In November of 2003, founder Edward DeVivo passed away. The current leaders of the company are now Louis DeVivo, president and CEO, and Donald DeVivo.

On the eve of the 80th anniversary, senior vice president Donald DeVivo says the company wouldn't be where it is today without one very important ingredient. "The most important thing is to honor the people that work here and have made it possible for us to get this far. The industry has changed quite a bit in 80 years."

DATTCO Day at the Park is just for those employees. The company is partnered with the Rockettes minor league baseball team, an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, and to celebrate the 80-year milestone the Rockettes and DATTCO will gather for a large outdoor "thank you" complete with picnics and family activities. DeVivo says the company has a strong family environment, and the employees reflect the well-being of the company in their enthusiasm and, in many cases, longevity.

"Our senior motorcoach driver, Otis Ames, has been here since 1964. When you take a trip with Otis, you remember it. He is so experienced and such a smooth driver with a great personality, the people love him," says DeVivo.

The employees also volunteer time and energy to causes. In April 2004, 20 employees partnered with members of the Rockettes to work on a house that was in need of intensive repairs for a community project called Rebuilding Together. DATTCO has also donated the use of its luxury coaches to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut and the American Heart Association to be auctioned off at the charities' annual fundraising events. "Our buses are popular auction items because they can be used to take a group of friends or business associates to a concert, ball game or other events in style," says DeVivo. "We're hopeful that they will bring in sizable donations for these groups."

Can't keep a good company downWhen the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy occurred, DATTCO felt the effects as strongly as most operators in the region. Before that date, bus utilization rates averaged about 80 percent but since two of the major destinations on the motorcoach segment of the business were Washington, DC and Manhattan, business fell off to about 70 percent utilization. The bookings are steadily returning, and DeVivo says 2004 will finish up as a "very good year."

DATTCO is focused on maintaining and expanding their current lines. At the time of this article, the company had a letter of intent to purchase American Eagle Motor Coach Inc., a Fairhaven, CT operation with nine coaches. The company has hired a full-time marketing coordinator, whose duties include expanding advertising, especially on the radio.

In an effort to try something new with the luxury motorcoaches in its fleet, DATTCO will be running a high-end trip into New York City to take a black-tie outfitted group to the Tony Awards. "I think the traditional bus trip is changing a bit for us," says DeVivo. "The shopping trip is on the decline, but it's more event-based trips now." In addition, they are running trips to NASCAR races and Broadway shows, often utilizing a Van Hool executive coach that has been designed in a 2-1 configuration that DeVivo says appeals to the executive traveler.

Two salesmen are on the road knocking on doors to drum up business for this coveted executive coach market, and direct mail is designed to grab new client attention. DATTCO parks a coach on the floor at bridal shows and business conventions in the area, and books trips right on the floor. "Once people get on these coaches, they really like them," says DeVivo.As for the fleet itself, the company has about 1,000 vehicles, including approximately 55 MCI and Van Hool motorcoaches. There are also a couple of Sprinter and VIP coaches in the mix. Unique vehicles called Activity Transport vehicles, which are built off a schoolbus chassis and are upgraded with motorcoach seats and air conditioning, are popular as local transport for sports teams and church groups. There are 22 of these modified, no-frills (as in, no lavatories or video monitors) vehicles in the fleet and DeVivo says they are quite popular.

Finally, DATTCO recently hosted its first annual expo when they identified a need for a show in the New England area that introduced products to customers locally. The expo was held in March at Mohegan Sun Casino and about 40 vendors were on-hand to talk with potential customers.

"It's really a people industry, from the employees to the venders to everyone we deal with everyday. It's really a lot of fun. Most of my friends are somehow involved in the industry. It's a hard industry to leave," says DeVivo.