Canterbury bus company Torlesse Travel has swooped in to keep the Leopard Coachlines brand alive, buying the trading name and some of its luxury coaches out of liquidation.

Torlesse is better known for providing school buses in and around Canterbury, giving it a steady source of income through the covid-19 pandemic that laid low a number of tourism operators such as Leopard.

Director Grant Rabbidge said he didn’t want the “iconic brand” to be lost and felt it still had much to offer.

“It's such a shame to see a long-standing family business like Leopard, who – in my view – have done nothing wrong, and have contributed so much to the industry,” he said.

Fifty-one-year-old Leopard appointed liquidators in February after failing to keep afloat on just 10% of its pre-pandemic income, despite drastically reducing staff from more than 100 people during its boom.

Liquidators John Fisk and Malcolm Hollis of PwC were called in to find a buyer, noting at the time of their appointment that the family-owned company did the right thing in calling it a day before things spiralled out of control.

Their first liquidators’ report said general secured creditors were owed $389,205, while employees were owed $31,169 and the IRD was owed $30,128.

Hollis said Torlesse paid “good money” for the Leopard Coachlines name and brand, beating out another offer.

“It was the best price somebody offered – not by a great deal but it was far cleaner and easier to complete,” he said.

Fleets apart

Most of Leopard’s 35 coaches had already been sold by the company’s secured creditor who’d taken ownership of the vehicles, and Rabbidge said his firm bought some through the liquidation process.

Torlesse’s focus on domestic customers, such as its school buses, made it easier to survive the pandemic and left it in a better position than solely tourism-focused operators.

“That's just what we know we do well, and we've been fortunate enough it's what got us through this pandemic,” Rabbidge said.

“We haven’t got tourism just yet, but it will come,” he said.

Brent Early, whose father set up Leopard Coachlines in 1970, said he would have liked the fleet to be sold alongside the trading name.

“But life is unfortunately not choreographed,” he said.

Early said the government’s timing of removing barriers to international travellers such as quarantine restrictions so soon after appointing liquidators to Leopard was hard.

“Unfortunately, you can't go back and benefit in hindsight, but that's been our biggest hassle through the whole pandemic,” he said.

He said he was trying to keep positive but was bracing himself for when he saw a Leopard coach on the road.

“It's going to be strange to actually be out on the street one day on the road and have a Leopard Coachlines coach pass me,” he said.

“That's going to be kind of a funny feeling.”