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Modern vehicles such as these will find their way to The Bus Shop after three to five years on Mistral’s rental fleet. THE BUS SHOP

Jonathan Welch paid a visit to the North Anston premises of The Bus Shop to find out how it is growing its business

Founded in 1992, the Mistral Group is a well-known and respected name in the coach and bus rental sector. Its new offshoot, though, is quickly establishing itself with the same reputation and values in the second-hand bus sales segment; under the watch of enthusiastic Used Vehicle Sales Manager Andrew Biggs, The Bus Shop offers a range of Mistral ex-rental vehicles for sale, as well as acting as a sales agent for third parties.

I paid a visit to the company’s premises at North Anston, near Sheffield, for a chat with Andrew to find out more about the new offshoot, and to have a look at some of the vehicles in stock. I started off by finding out a bit about Andrew and his background. “I first entered the industry in 2009 with Dawsongroup,” he explained, “I had two stints there, initially until 2016 before leaving the bus and coach scene for a year, then returning to Dawsongroup in 2017 until departing in 2020 after being approached by Mistral.

“I started with Mistral right at the beginning of the first lockdown, and like a lot of people I wondered if I’d still have a job to go to, but Mistral remained very good to me, standing by their convictions for bringing me on board. For the first few months my role was more aligned to whatever the business needed me to do rather than the job I’d accepted, which I was happy to do – I didn’t qualify for the furlough scheme as I’d only recently joined. At the time, lots of operators were asking for payment holidays on finance and rental packages, and in the early stages I got involved, supporting the staff who were still working. It gave me a good feel for our fleet and the shape of market. The sudden drop off in normal day to day activities also afforded me more time to develop the Bus Shop brand and website content in a relatively quieter environment, with opportunities to practice and launch the vehicle preview videos that we now routinely offer on all used stock.


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“Mistral celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and whilst we’ve always had used vehicles to dispose of, it has never had a specialist focus on it before now. There has always been a strong motivation on new rental and finance business, but less incentive for our sales team to push used coach and bus sales. That’s the purpose of my role, to take more of a lead on that side of the business.”

“We recognised that we need to be more proactive, and to churn vehicles faster. The sooner we sell, the sooner we can re-invest that money to feed more new vehicles to our growing core rental market. As a group, we also have a desire to increase the size of our rental fleet, but also maintain a low average fleet age. Continued investment is therefore a key, and releasing captive cash held in the older fleet plays a significant part of achieving those growth plans.”

A short wheelbase Enviro200MMC which is typical of the type of ex-rental vehicles The Bus Shop deals with, has been liveried to advertise the brand at Euro Bus Expo. THE BUS SHOP

New brand

“We decided to create a new brand,” Andrew continued, “to put our used sales activities at the forefront rather than just selling the buses as ‘ex-Mistral’ as we had done previously. It gives us an identity and helps us stand out.

“The pandemic has obviously affected a lot of things, but an ideal situation would be that we keep vehicles on the rental fleet for no longer than five years. Sometimes, that could be as low as three. After that time, they will transfer across to The Bus Shop. Although we have a separate brand, we’re still keen to say there’s a link between the two businesses. We’re proud of Mistral’s reputation in the industry. We’ve just created a more defined area to go to for used vehicle sales.

“The majority of our equipment offered will be from our own stock and we have a dedicated website for The Bus Shop that is in a similar style to Mistral’s site and there are easy links from one to the other. I also work closely with our regional sales staff, and if they pick up on the fact that they could sell a used vehicle, we will work together. Either I can go and speak to the customer directly or let them do the deal if it’s someone they already have a good established relationship with. My coverage is national, so I can introduce operators to the relevant regional sales manager, if necessary, too.”

Early success

So far, the new venture seems to be working well. “We’re pleased with the following The Bus Shop has gathered already,” Andrew continued. “I spent some time in marketing previously and recognise the importance of a good brand. It’s important to keep the brand out there and engage with people. I want to make it feel more personal.

“We set up a Facebook page, which hits an audience of several thousand people. The page has really taken off. Some industry-based Facebook groups have 5,000 or even 10,000 members, and whilst not all members may be operators, it’s still a big influencer. All it needs is for one or two people to see it who are looking for a bus for a new route or to upgrade a contract. It would take many hours to speak to that amount of people individually.

“It’s important to use what’s available, so we have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or basically any social media platform we think can offer a benefit to our aims. I endeavour to do walk-round video presentations for every vehicle as soon as I can, but sometimes we will start to market vehicles before we have them physically back in stock. I’d rather tell a customer who enquires that it won’t be available for a month, than people not know what’s coming and have no enquiries. It’s about being proactive.”

Andrew noted that the stats on The Bus Shop’s social media pages are impressive, with posts reaching thousands of people as well as driving additional engagement. “Some people are active on one platform, but not the other,” he added. “It lets us cast our net far and wide. We’ve noticed too that lots of people in the industry – engineers, managers, and so on – are often busy during the day. They don’t want contacting during working hours. We often find we receive messages in the evening asking for details. Our online presence lets people peruse at a time that suits them.”

Used Vehicle Sales Manager Andy Biggs. THE BUS SHOP


Credibility is also key, Andrew explained. “People need to know what to expect. They know that if we have listed it on Facebook for example, there will be a full specification and video on our website, along with indicative finance options to help them gauge affordability. With each sale, though, we’ll carry out an appraisal and work out what the best option is. We want our brand to be associated with a credible offering.”

Andrew explained that besides listing current stock, he is also keen to highlight successful sales via the website, which helps further the credibility and show what The Bus Shop can do. He is especially aware of the prevailing thought that no-one ever gets rid of their best vehicle and highlighted that it’s a different scenario with ex-rental vehicles.

“We recently added a ‘sold vehicles’ tab on our website, which helps to build confidence. We’re selling them as part of our regular churn of vehicles,” he explained. “We will buy them, rent them to operators for a set period, then sell them on. We always want to be able to offer the newest equipment to operators seeking a rental solution. We want our vehicles to stand out from the rest of the market.

“Anything we sell from our fleet has had a full assessment, and although we haven’t maintained it ourselves during the contract, we will do an appraisal on what may need to be done before it is returned to us. It will always go through an end of contract inspection process, so anyone who buys from us will only have two things to do: their own pre-service inspection and apply their legal lettering and livery.”

Of course, we all know that sometimes things don’t go to plan, and some vehicles have to be repossessed from operators, for a variety of reasons. “We will assess them ourselves, and decide what needs doing,” Andrew explained, “then make a decision on the course of action. Some newer ones might be returned to our rental fleet, whilst older ones will be transferred to The Bus Shop. We’ll reflect their condition in our advertising, and the price will often include a full repaint anyway.”

A recent refurbished sales vehicle is this classic Enviro200, which went to NAT Group in South Wales. THE BUS SHOP

Third party sales

The Bus Shop has also turned its hand to selling on vehicles on behalf of third parties, with recent examples being buses from large municipal Cardiff Bus and independent Shetland operator R. Robertson & Son, showing how operators large and small can benefit from an assisted sale. Other vehicles are being offered for sale on behalf of industry finance partners, with the well-publicised collapse of Yellow Buses being a current example of this. Looking through the stock on the website, and at some of the buses parked in its yard at North Anston, Andrew explained that some buses might look tatty on initial view, but the work will be done to bring them back up to standard, and that at the same time some operators with tighter budgets might choose to take a bus ‘as is’ and do some of the work themselves – an open discussion is key in this regard, he said.

After the failure of Yellow Buses, The Bus Shop took 21 vehicles, in varying conditions. “The finance company is looking for the best return in the condition they are in,” Andrew explained. “We attended the Bournemouth site to video and photograph all vehicles for our remarketing. They all needed a good valet, but the interiors are sound. We’re honest about where they’re from and make the point that they’re not our own stock.”

The Yellow Buses vehicles are currently stored at a coach operator’s premises; an operator which has been a long-time customer of Mistral and who is happy for The Bus Shop to arrange for viewings to take place.

“We’re upfront about sale price and whether finance is available,” Andrew continued. “We like to be consistent and provide as much information as we can and fill out all the information boxes on the website. Our ex-rental fleet buses go out with a minimum six-month MOT on our own stock vehicles at the date of supply, and potentially a driveline warranty as an option. At the minute, HP rates and credit costs can change rapidly, so we make people aware that what is on an advert could change.”

Another recent refurbished ex-rental sale was this former CT Plus short-wheelbase Enviro200MMC. THE BUS SHOP

Buses or coaches

Andrew explained that the majority of Mistral’s – and The Bus Shop’s – business is buses. “We recently sold two Caetano Levantes on behalf of Yellow Buses,” he said, “and we currently have Plaxton Leopards available. We have had some fleet coaches come back to us during the pandemic, but many went back out on rent, with some being part exchanged with Alexander Dennis and replaced with PSVAR-compliant ones.”

At the time of my visit, there were eight service buses in the yard, which is on part of the Alexander Dennis site, a company that Mistral and The Bus Shop work closely with. Four were the latest style of Enviro200s, whilst the remainder were ‘classic’ examples. Andrew highlighted the difficulty of selling on some vehicle types: “Buses with dual doors are not popular outside of London. We have a limited market for them, but again it’s about being pro-active and trying to balance what we have in stock with what buyers need, and to work together to find a solution to their requirements.

“Lots of our recent work has been driven by low emission zones and clean air zones. There’s been a push to get to Euro VI. We’re also seeing lots of operators which are looking for buses for contracts, which are often just for 12 months. That has an impact – an operator won’t buy new for that. They will either rent new or buy used.

“We’re always looking for new opportunities and looking forward to meeting existing customers as well as potential new ones at the NEC at Euro Bus Expo.”


The Bus Shop also undertakes assisted sales, such as with 18 former Yellow Buses vehicles following that operator’s closure. THE BUS SHOP