Longhorn Bus Sales in Texas No. 1 Thomas Built Distributor for 1996 >By Mark Nutter

LONGHORN Bus Sales recently was named 1996 distributor of the year by Thomas Built Buses. One reason the distrbutor won the award was because it poured sorely needed orders into Thomas Built's new plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

"We were an integral part of the success of that plant," says Jack Connell Jr, general manager of Longhorn Bus Sales in Houston, Texas.

In addition, Longhorn was chosen because the distributor increased its parts sales by 13% in 1996. Longhorn's total sales in 1996 were up 60%, and the distributor had a 40% increase in school bus orders.

"Orders from Longhorn kept people working in Monterrey," Connell says.

The 75,000-sq-ft plant was built in 1995 to supply buses for Thomas Built's export business to Mexico, Central and South America, Connell says. But when an economic recession hit the Mexican economy, Thomas Built had a new manufacturing and assembly plant with no orders to build.

In 1995, Longhorn put in stock orders for 120 buses from the Monterrey plant, Connell says. The plant built the stock orders, which accounted for part of the 400 school buses sold by Longhorn in 1996 and built in Monterrey. Since it began building buses for Texas customers, the plant receives orders for its conventional school buses from customers in New Mexico and Arizona.

"The plant is doing well now and builds about 1,000 school buses a year," says Bob Price, director of North American distributor sales for Thomas Built. "What Longhorn did for that plant was important."

Modifying Stock Orders As Longhorn sold buses in 1996, it modified the 120-bus stock order at the Monterrey plant, which builds only conventional school buses. For example, if a customer wanted a white roof on a school bus, Longhorn would change one bus in the stock order being built on the assembly line in Monterrey.

Stripped chassis for the buses are shipped by rail from the Navistar International plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the US-Mexico border crossing in Laredo, Texas. Navistar recently captured a dominant share of the market, selling 80% of the stripped chassis used in Texas school buses.

Thomas Built transports the chassis from the border to their Monterrey plant and returns the completed buses to Laredo, where they are picked up by Longhorn. Before final delivery, some buses are brought to Houston for installation of radios or air-conditioning.

Longhorn has a ready supply of stripped chassis, since the owner of the company, Ed Kyrish, also owns three Navistar dealerships in Texas. Kyrish purchased Longhorn in 1990 from Connell's father, Jack Connell Sr, who started Longhorn Bus Sales in 1974.

Kyrish owns and operates Olympic International, down the street from Longhorn in Houston. His twin sons run two other International dealerships in Texas. Wayne Kyrish has Santex International in San Antonio, and Duane runs Longhorn International in Austin.

Chassis for the Thomas Built school buses sold by Longhorn Bus Sales are ordered through Longhorn International in Austin. Some school districts lease buses from another company owned by Kyrish, Southwest Student Transportation in McKinney, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. Buses leased from Southwest Student Transportation are sold by Longhorn Bus Sales.

International Aftermarket Service While this business combination does not offer any obvious advantages, school districts prefer buses built on International chassis because of the aftermarket services offered by the truck builder, Kyrish says. Aftermarket parts sales and service work are the "bread-and-butter" of any International truck dealer.

"School buses represent a large parts market because school districts keep buses about 10 years," Kyrish says. "We really push aftermarket parts and service because trucks are International's only business. Our efforts pay off since the majority of the buses sold in Texas this year are built on International chassis."

Another 200 school buses sold by Longhorn in 1996 were transit-style models built at Thomas Built Buses' main plant in High Point, North Carolina. In 1996, Longhorn tripled its sales of transit-style school buses.

Many school bus manufacturers want to sell more transit-style buses because they have a higher profit margin than conventional school buses, Connell says. Prices for transit buses begin at about $60,000 compared to $45,000 for a conventional school bus built on a stripped chassis.

Chassis for transit buses usually are built by the school bus manufacturer and have heavier frame rails and axles. The buses provide a more comfortable ride because they have a lower center of gravity than a conventional bus and many have air-ride suspensions. Transit buses often are purchased by school districts for transporting athletic teams and other students on long trips.

Thomas Built's transit bus can carry up to 90 passengers and has a 236-inch wheelbase, which makes it easier to maneuver than a conventional model with a 276-inch wheelbase. In comparison, the conventional model carries only 77 passengers.

Surpassing its Quota Another area where Longhorn distinguished itself was in sales performance, which is another standard used to choose the Thomas Built distributor of the year. The distributor easily surpassed its 1996 quota of 300 school buses.

The buses sold by Longhorn Bus Sales are all delivered to school districts within the State of Texas, Connell says. Longhorn is the only Thomas Built Buses distributor in Texas and sells about 30% of approximately school buses sold each year in the state.

The company has a salesman that covers north Texas, another in central Texas, and a third for south Texas. Longhorn Bus Sales is also a parts distributor for Thomas Built Buses and Rifled Air-Conditioning in High Point, North Carolina.

Longhorn sells $1,200,000 in parts each year, says Robert Lofgren, parts and service manager at Longhorn. About $30,000 of that figure are monthly parts sales to the service department. Parts sales were $250,000 in 1993, but since then have increased annually. To order bus parts from its Houston office, Longhorn has three computers on-line with Thomas Built.

This spring, Longhorn built a 4,650-sq-ft building to store bus and air-conditioning parts. The new building has a retail parts counter. The addition will free up space in the service bays, some of which were temporarily being used for parts storage.

Exceeding Expectations Besides sales performance, Longhorn had to meet other criteria to become Thomas Built Buses distributor of the year. A distributor must meet or exceed its sales quota for school buses and commercial buses. They must have current accounts with Thomas Built, meaning no accounts over 30 days past due. Lastly, the distributor of the year is required to have a good relationship with the factory.

"Longhorn was the most outstanding performer in all these categories," Price says. "Each year, Thomas built has a handful of distributors that rise to the top and Longhorn is always in that group."

The distributor was recommended for the award by Gail Cheek, Thomas Built Buses regional manager for Texas in 1995. Longhorn Bus Sales won the first distributor of the year award presented by Thomas Built in 1979, which was the last time the company was distributor of the year.

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