Niagara Scenic Tours cites reputation, leadership for buy

For many in western and central New York, a vacation or road trip was a dream washed in the color purple. For 25 years, Covered Wagon Tours served those looking for an escape from the everyday a chance to see the world through a new and exciting lens. 

On Tuesday, Covered Wagon Tours and other related assets changed hands when the Hornell-based company was officially sold to Niagara Scenic Tours.

The business' origin story began more than 25 years ago, when owner Dave Parmley converted a bus into a motor home for his personal use. After receiving inquiries about possibly chartering the vehicle, Parmley decided that it might be a profitable business venture. He then purchased two used, 46-passenger buses.

Over the years, the company steadily grew to include 50 buses in its fleet, taking to the roads from four locations in Hornell, Avon, Bradford, Pa. and Olean.

Parmley took great pride in being able to employ many workers. 

"That was a great thing. I had over 100 employees, and people didn't have any idea. They drive by and see a few buses, but we have a 24,000 square foot building in Avon, another similar sized building in Olean and a smaller operation in Bradford," Parmley said.

The purple buses, became an iconic figure on the road to people from the region.

"I always got a kick out of people saying 'We went to Florida and saw the purple bus on I-95.' I always got a big charge out of that, making people feel like they were at home when they were thousands of miles away," Parmley said. 

In recent years, much of the bus tour operations had moved to Avon, but the headquarters was always in the city of Hornell. 

The 158 Thatcher St. office will remain open, supporting operations for the freight end of the business, which was not sold. 

"Last fall, we had a company we worked with out of Hamburg for many years ask if I had thought about a succession plan or selling," Parmley said.

Parmley had no intention to sell at the time. 

Talks continued through the winter, and the two sides came to terms, with a closing date on Aug. 1.

"One thing led to another, and we put things together, and it came together very nicely," he said. 

For new owner and president Keith Fisher, the motivation to acquire Covered Wagon was simple.

"We liked the Rochester area market and along the Southern Tier area, and we were looking to expand. One of two ways to do that was to move buses there and start competing, or to buy someone out."

Parmley and his company's reputation went a long way in closing the sale, according to Fisher.

"If I didn't respect the company and his leadership, I wouldn't have bought it," he said.

Operationally, there will be some changes to Covered Wagon.

"We are downsizing the fleet a little bit, we're taking out some of the older buses and trying to get better utilization of the equipment," Fisher revealed.

Tour offices will no longer be located in Hornell either, with all tour business moving to Avon.

However, the buses will remain purple, until they age out of the Niagara Scenic Tours fleet, at which time they will be replaced with new blue models.

Neither Parmley or Fisher would disclose the purchase price for the business.

Niagara Scenic Tours has been around for many years, in different forms, first independently — before selling out to CoachUSA, which left the Rochester and Buffalo markets in 2006, and then was revived by Fisher in 2007.