FTI Coach Celebrates Its 30-Year Anniversary
In 1978, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, Donald Menard saw that other members were eager to join him on group trips to attractions and events. He and three other Knights responded to that clear demand, erecting a ragtag travel club and renting a bus to take them places.
“Our first trip was eight buses,” said Donald. “It was a moonlight cruise in North Kingston, RI, with 250 on the boat, we filled it to the brim.”
The “Foxy Travelers,” they called themselves, and the name stuck.
When a new “Grand Knight” came aboard the club a few years later, he wanted nothing to do with these bus trips that headed out of his port. Donald took this potential business to a building he owned in Linwood, MA, which became the new headquarters for the Foxy Travelers in 1981. Donald founded Foxy Travel Inc. in 1985, and in 1989, Donald and one co-owner bought their first motorcoach, officially launching FTI Coach. In 1990, Donald became the sole owner of the company.
This year, FTI Coach celebrates its 30th anniversary as the thriving motorcoach arm of Foxy Travel Inc. Foxy Travel is a company that is rich in history, and remains the only independently-owned full-service travel agency in the Blackstone Valley.
FTI’s first motorcoach cost $100,000; the latest had a price tag of $540,000. The company now has a fleet of 11 motorcoaches, operating in tandem with Foxy Travel, the trip-planning side of the business. Donald’s son Keith has managed the company for several years and is now its president, and has been working with the company since he was a youngster, donning his first gold “tour escort” blazer when he was 12.
“I remember the meetings in our living room,” says Keith. “And when I got older, it was, ‘You have to go down wash buses.’ We didn’t have a garage, and we had three buses. I’d come down and help wash the buses. We had a spigot on the side of one of the buildings and it shot hot water so we could wash them. I remember yelling to my dad that the soap was freezing to the bus. He said he didn’t care; every bus had to be washed every day. Every bus had to be in pristine condition.”
Keith, too, remembers distinctly a father-son trip across the country to pick up a new motorcoach from the factory. He was young, but he ended up behind the wheel of the big rig at one point.
“When we got the third bus, my dad and I were going to have this great bonding trip to go and get it,” he says. “We went to North Dakota to pick it up. When we started to drive back, there was a problem at home and we had to get back. Instead of being this great father-son trip, we had to get back to Linwood as fast as we could. It was the middle of the night and we were in the midwest with all flat roads. I said to my dad, ‘Want me to take a shift?’ I was 15; he was tired.”
“All he had to do was steer,” laughs Donald, who is now 81. “We drove 1,600 miles in a day and a half.”
The Menards attribute their steady growth and sustained success to a solid business model and the fact that it is rooted in family. Donald’s wife Christine, who passed away in 2016, was crucial to keeping the business afloat with behind-the-scenes support. Donald’s brother Dennis maintains the fleet of vehicles, and apparently never sleeps.
“We answer the phone 24 hours a day,” says Donald, “and we are there for the people and there for the drivers. My phone is next to my head. This business wouldn’t be what it was if it weren’t for my wife. It was a big loss for the company. Everybody loved her and she was the heart of it.”
“Anyone in transportation will tell you it’s 24-7,” adds Keith. “You’re not only dealing with people’s lives, but these buses are mechanical beasts. They went from being buses you could fix with duct tape to needing a computer to fix them. They’re rolling entertainment vehicles; the passengers get an absolutely luxury experience in these vehicles.”
Keith says one of the keys to their success is not over-extending themselves, keeping their purchases measured.
“We’ve always tried to control our growth and not get too big too fast,” explains Keith. “A lot of companies haven’t made it because they over-extended themselves. We’ve always tried to grow smartly and conservatively. We could go out and buy ten more buses, but the strength of this company has always been our employees. It’s always been a team event. Once you get too big, you forget about that. We strike a balance.”