Meeting customers’ needs
Customer service is also a key priority for Kerlin so that customers’ needs are taken care of as quickly as possible.
The company has over-the-phone troubleshooting for buses, and if they can’t be repaired by that method, Kerlin has an employee on the road four days a week who can help to fix any buses.
Zehr says that this process gets buses back on the road more quickly and cuts back on downtime.
Kerlin reports to Thomas Built Buses every month about every customer it calls on. The company has a reporting system so that officials there and at Thomas Built know that customers are being taken care of.
Kerlin checks the buses three to four times to make sure that they have everything that the customers ordered. Zehr says that the company has a 99% success rate in this area.
“We take pride in seeing that things are done right because our business is about transporting children and doing it safely,” he says.
The Kerlin family first got involved in the transportation industry in 1927 when Russell Kerlin founded Kerlin Motor Co. The family began a working partnership with Thomas Built in 1962 when Russell’s son, Ed Kerlin, sold his first Thomas Built bus, founded Kerlin Bus Sales and Leasing and became a dealer for the school bus manufacturer.
The company carries the full line of Thomas Built buses. Zehr says Kerlin is very connected to Thomas Built’s factory and that Thomas does a great job of supporting its dealerships.
“Thomas builds a good bus, and that’s what’s carried us through the good and bad times,” he adds.
Ed Kerlin has retired, but his family continues to run the company and serve Thomas Built Buses’ customers. Zehr is Ed Kerlin’s son-in-law, and Zehr’s wife, Cindy, is chief financial officer. Their daughter, Melanie, handles marketing.
Zehr says they have a great working relationship as a family, and he feels blessed to be able to run a company with his family by his side.
”We try to treat our employees as if they’re family also,” he adds. “That only happens in a small company.”
Growth and achievements
In 1982, Kerlin Bus Sales only had seven employees. Now, its staff has more than tripled, as it operates with a team of 25. In addition, Zehr says the company’s sales staff has a lot of longevity, and that many of the employees have earned Wings of Eagles Awards in customer service and bus sales from Thomas Built.
Kerlin has also been a member of the Thomas President’s Club for outstanding service and performance since 1972. The company is a two-time recipient of the Thomas Dealer of the Year award, and it is active in the School Transportation Association of Indiana.