Hook 'em, 'Horn

March 1, 2005
LAST December, the IC Corp a wholly owned subsidiary of International Truck and Engine Corp announced that Longhorn Bus Sales in Houston had been named

LAST December, the IC Corp — a wholly owned subsidiary of International Truck and Engine Corp — announced that Longhorn Bus Sales in Houston had been named its Western Region Dealer of the Year.

Longhorn, while honored to receive the award, did not do cartwheels. That's because the year before, Longhorn became the first IC Corp dealer to be named National Dealer of the Year in back-to-back years.

“We knocked two home runs,” Longhorn general manager Jack Connell says.

Connell says his company, Texas' oldest new-bus distributor, experienced a 32.9% increase in sales in 2003, but was victimized by its own success because of rising quotas. In the end, Rivers Bus Sales Inc in Jacksonville, Florida, prevented a Longhorn threepeat. And that's OK with Connell, because he's moving massive numbers of buses and controlling the lucrative Texas market.

In 2004, Longhorn sold 1536 buses — 76.8% of the buses purchased in the state. Between 2001 (the first year it was named National Dealer of the Year) and 2004, Longhorn nearly doubled its sales.

Connell attributes Longhorn's success to:

  • The product.

    In designing the CE (conventional) models, IC Corp consulted drivers, fleet supervisors, school administrators, and mechanics, asking them what they wanted in a school bus. It also videotaped hours of footage of drivers performing their jobs, studying repetitive movements, and analyzing how they used the controls and in what sequence. And finally, it took exact measurements of 1500 drivers of all shapes and sizes, using them to create an efficient ergonomic environment. All switches are located on the steering wheel, meaning the driver's hands never have to leave the steering wheel.

    Connell says IC Corp is the only company that makes buses with 36” entrance doors, the widest in the industry. It also has an integrated child checkmate system that ensures that the driver doesn't exit the bus and leave a sleeping child behind, and a state-of-the-art multiplex system.

    “It's what we consider to be a real Star Wars bus,” Connell says.

  • The infrastructure.

    “Everything about this operation — from the local distributor right up to the manufacturer — is one class act,” he says. “I would like to think that our services here have played a big part in our ability to sell most of the buses in Texas. We have both service and parts, but International has a network of International truck dealers who have been set up to do service, warranty, and parts. No matter where their buses reside — whether it's Dalhart or Beaumont — they don't have to come to us or get parts shipped to them. They go to the local dealer and get serviced right there. We may not even know the bus ever went there.

    “It used to be that the local dealer would work on them, but they had to call the distributor, and it took time to get parts.”

  • Principal owner Ed Kyrish, who in 1990 purchased Longhorn from Connell and his father, Jack Connell Sr, who started Longhorn Bus Sales in 1974. In 1996, Longhorn was named Distributor of the Year by Thomas Built Buses.

    “He's the kind of CEO who has the Midas touch,” Connell says. “Whatever he touches turns to gold.”

    Kyrish, president of International Trucks of Houston, won the American Truck Dealers/Heavy Duty Trucking's prestigious 2002 Truck Dealer of the Year award, which recognizes truck dealers for excellence in business practices, industry contributions, and community leadership.

    “He's the genius,” Connell says. “He sits on dealer councils for both International trucks and for the bus. He's very powerful in the dealer dialogue with the plant. And his resources have helped a lot. Since the purchase in 1990, Longhorn has been able to purchase large quantities of stock units — as much as one-third of our yearly quota for stock. It's the old adage: ‘You can't sell ‘em if you ain't got ‘em.’ The ability to have stock buses has turned this company around.”

  • Longhorn's parts department, led by parts manager Jim Quinn and Marty Mankinen, who oversees all order-entry sales.

    “You can give Marty a part number, and he already knows what it is,” Connell says.

  • A sales staff that now includes two sales administrators, to go along with four salesmen.

“Adding two sales administrators gave the sales people the opportunity to spend more time in the field and not as much time in the office trying to work up bids, quotes, and place orders,” sales manager Robert Lofgren says. “In today's operation, our sales people can focus strictly on our customer support and the actual selling of the product and not have to worry about paperwork.”

Connell says IC Corp's biggest-selling bus in Texas is the CE model, which can be built at either of the company's two plants — Tulsa, Oklahoma, a remarkable operation housed in a 4000-ft-long building that was built 19 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was used to assemble aircraft — including B-24 Liberator bombers, TBM Avengers, and A-26 attack bombers; and Conway, Arkansas. The two transit models — FE (front engine) and RE (rear engine) — can be built only in Conway.

And Connell says he expects to sell even more of them in 2005, in part because the Clean Air Act program once again will make funds available to schools that destroy buses heavy in air pollutants and replace them with new ones.

“We saw schools in 2004 that typically would have bought 15 or 20 but because of CAA bought as many as 80,” Lofgren says. “There was a five- or six-year turnover in one year. They couldn't sell the bus at an auction. They had to physically destroy the bus and engine to qualify for that money.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.