As a locally-owned and family-run business for three generations, The Wilson’s Group has been serving Vancouver Island communities with diverse transportation options for over 40 years. Their business is more than just buses—it’s about connecting people while providing sustainable transportation options. We spoke with Samantha Wilson, the Brand Manager for the group who is a third-generation Wilson family employee, to learn more about the company.
What is Wilson’s Group and what do you provide?
“The Wilson’s Group of companies is a group of ground transportation and sightseeing businesses specializing in motor coach transportation. We are the largest bus company on Vancouver Island, and the second-largest in British Columbia.”
The Wilson’s Group is also unique because of their diverse range of transportation options, as Samantha explains.
“We’re also one of the most diverse fleets in all of British Columbia. When you look at other bus companies, most of the time they’ll focus on just motor coaches or just school-bussing. But we actually have a fleet of school buses that range from 24 to 56 passengers, we have a fleet of motor coaches, we have double-deckers, we have vans.”
In addition, the services that Wilson’s Group offer are just as unique.
“We do charters and rentals, which is kind of the heart of our business where we started; we have scheduled services with our BC Ferries Connector Service, our Vancouver Island Connector, and our Tofino Bus Service; and then we have our sightseeing division as well which consists of our GrayLine Hop-on Hop-Off, which is the red double-deckers you see around town, as well as our Butchart Gardens Express Shuttle. So we’re incredibly diverse, which makes us really unique, because you don’t see a lot of companies that do them all.”
What is your role within the company?
“I am the brand manager for the group of companies. I oversee sales, marketing, communications, and our community relations projects. I work with all the divisions within the group of companies, so it’s always something new and exciting.”
Can you tell me about the history behind The Wilson’s Group?
“It is a family-owned and operated business here in Victoria. The business was started by my grandfather and grandmother, W.D Kello and Mary Wilson. It was incorporated in 1980, so we celebrated our 40th anniversary in February of 2020—our celebration was obviously smaller than anticipated. … My father became CEO in 2008, and then he took over the company in 2017. Currently both my father, my brother, my cousin, and myself are involved in the business, so we’re a third-generation family business.”
Samantha also explains that working with her family has been a great experience.
“We really work well together as a team. The three of us—my brother, my cousin, and I—are all in different areas for a good reason. My brother is a certified heavy duty mechanic and he runs our operations, our fleet, and our shop. My cousin—he’s the one that’s good with numbers—he’s our controller. And then I’m in the sales and marketing side of things, so we all kind of have our specialties and we just work really well together.”
Do you have any favourite memories with the business?
“As a kid, when the business would have Christmas or staff parties, my cousins and I would get together, and my grandfather used to get mad at us when we were playing with the label maker. We thought it was super cool, like it was a kind of video game. But label tape was expensive, and my grandfather didn’t want us to waste it, so I remember us sneaking off to play with it. It’s just one of those things that now, in my position, whenever I have to make a label, I still think about that. Like a “look how far I’ve come” moment. The little one making labels and now here I am—I can make them now without getting in trouble!”
“I also remember one summer, I wanted to make some extra money, so my dad said I could help with the interior cleaning of the buses. So I would windex the windows and mop the floors and stuff like that. So it’s fun to have been involved and see the business grow since I was a little kid, and then see how far we’ve come—now being involved in the business side of things. I’ve graduated from my windexing days.”
“Then as a memory as an adult, in 2014 we were honoured to receive the Family Business Enterprise of the Year award from the Family Business Association, and it was a really cool experience. We had friends and family show up for the awards ceremony, and my cousin and I gave a speech. My dad got up and spoke and my grandparents were there too. We were actually able to get a picture of the three generations of Wilsons that have worked in the business thus far—so that was a really special moment in our family’s history. My dad actually has that picture that I’m talking about framed in his office.”
Does The Wilson’s Group do any charity or activism initiatives?
“Wilson’s is very heavily involved in the community, and it’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on and have grown our business on. We believe it’s important for giving back to the community to be a pillar of our business, and receive it back, especially during the pandemic when we felt huge support from the community. … So we truly believe in giving back to the community that has given so much to us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without our community.”
Samantha elaborates that lending their time to specific organizations and causes is a huge part of how The Wilsons’ Group runs their business.
“We give back by volunteering our time on boards, committees, and non-profit organizations. Sport—my dad is heavily involved in the sports community, such as the Harbourcats, and that’s always fun for the family and our staff as well. And then just giving back to different organizations and events throughout the year. It’s definitely a key part of our business.
For Samantha, it’s important that smaller organizations and charities get the recognition they deserve from local businesses like The Wilson’s Group, because without them, we would feel their absence.
“I mean don’t get me wrong—big corporations do definitely give back to communities as well. But I think some of the smaller organizations get missed without that local support—because it’s the local businesses that are involved with them and make sure they receive the support they need as well. Non-profits do amazing work, and a lot of it is behind the scenes, so maybe some people aren’t even aware that some of these organizations exist. But without them, you would notice that they’re not there. And so it’s those local businesses that help support these local organizations—we need to continue to support our local businesses so that they can continue to support these organizations that are crucial to our communities.”
How do you think The Wilson’s Group positively impacts the community?
“Part of branding and what we say is that we’re actually in the business of connecting people. Because every time someone is on our bus, they’re on it for a reason, and we’re connecting them to see family, to see friends. We’re connecting sports teams so they can come together and play one another, or maybe it’s a senior group going to the theatre. Or it’s a school field trip for kids to go learn about marine sciences. Or tourists—we’re connecting tourists to our city and showcasing the beautiful city we have, and hopefully they continue to come back and spend money in our local economy. So we really feel that we are in the business of connecting people—connecting people together and connecting people to the cities in which we operate.”
This connection piece, Samantha explains, is something that’s very important to her family and colleagues at The Wilson’s Group.
“We’re really passionate about that. I feel that the fact that we’re a local family doing this as well, again you have that connection piece that you might miss with a larger corporation, because we truly care about the community. We truly care about the places we do business. And we’re here to continue to serve them the best we can.”
Being environmentally-conscious and providing a sustainable transportation option is another way that The Wilson’s Group positively impacts the community.
“We are involved in sustainable projects and green initiatives here in our company. We’re a Vancouver Island Green certified business, and we’re the first fleet transportation business to be certified on Vancouver Island. We’re also a Surfrider approved company, which means that we’ve done an amazing job of reducing our single-use plastics throughout our business. We’ve done some pilot projects with electric vehicles, looked at some hydrogen options, and we’re always looking at ways to do better for the environment.”
“By nature, bussing is a green form of transportation. We have the capacity to take 56 vehicles off the road, and put them on one bus. People can reduce their emissions by up to 80% by choosing a motor coach instead of driving their own car. And without services like ours, those options disappear. So we’re doing our part for the environment and trying to get that message out there that if you want to have a greener option—well here it is. Take a bus!”