As a kid, Ray Land loved to travel and meet new people. “I especially thought motor coaches were cool,” he says. As an eighth grader, he found a way to monetize his fondness for big passenger vehicles when he began organizing weekly trips for churches, school clubs, and families. He’d research a destination, book a bus and lodging, print up T-shirts, and then play travel guide--all for a fee, of course.
Demand for his trips increased so much that, at the ripe age of 17, he found an old rust bucket of a coach for sale on eBay. After persuading the sellers to let him test-drive the vehicle (he wasn’t yet old enough to get his commercial driver’s license), Land handed over a $5,000 down payment before calling his mother to tell her what he’d done. “She told me if I missed a payment, I’d have to sell it,” says Land. “I never missed a single one.”
Land then hired a driver for his new business, Fabulous Coach Lines, and set up a website to promote it, which, in 2004, set him apart from his competitors. The site generated a lot of business, particularly from folks interested in taking trips to big cities like New York, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. A few months later, he bought another coach, this one capable of ferrying 56 passengers. And by August 2004, he had bought his third coach, this one almost brand new, which cost him close to $200,000.
After graduating from high school, Land, who had gotten his commercial driver's license and was driving one of the coaches himself, tried attending North Florida Community College for a while. It didn’t stick. “All the papers I tried to write turned into brochures for my business,” he says.
Land says the big turning point in his business was when he landed a six-month military contract in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Buoyed by that revenue, and with the help of several bank loans, he continued expanding his fleet, which now stands at 50 vehicles, by adding a few coaches every year and also by acquiring competing coach lines and limo companies. Land estimates that some 2,000 passengers rode with Fabulous--a name originally coined by his high school girlfriend--last year.
Next up for Land, who also co-founded a mobile app software company: He’s building a mega rest stop off an abandoned exit off Interstate 75 in Florida. The idea is to create a destination for travelers offering restrooms, restaurants, and parks. “It’s going to be called Fabulous, and I want to make it the welcome center to the state of Florida,” he says.