It has been 36 years since Jim Bridgewater Sr. bought Midwest Transit Equipment from a family in Illinois. Over the years the company has grown, more locations have been developed and the company became one of the largest bus dealers in the U.S.
Working to the top
Barry Huebner, president of the company, began working in the industry in 1973 as a mechanic in contract operations for a company that later became a dealer. He then went to work in sales for the dealership before it was bought out by Midwest Transit Equipment in 1987. He continued to work for the company, and in 1996, he moved to the corporate headquarters in Kankakee, Ill.
“It gives us a lot of empathy for our customers and what they’re doing every day,” Huebner says about working from the bottom to the top of the company. “We understand what they’re doing.”
Jim Bridgewater Jr., vice president of sales and marketing for Midwest Transit Equipment, started working in the industry just a few years after Huebner in 1977. Just like Huebner, Bridgewater started as a mechanic and worked his way up in the company through sales and management. “It’s been challenging and rewarding, but I’ve met a lot of talented people over the years,” Bridgewater says.
Both Huebner and Bridgewater agree that having mechanical experience has helped them immensely in not only working to the top of the company but in running it as well.
Holding high standards
Not only did Midwest Transit Equipment earn IC Bus’ North American Tom Cellitti Dealer of the Year Award for 2011, the company also earned a certificate of achievement, an award of honor and the millennium cup from the Millennium Risk Control workshop in Chicago in 2011. In 2010, the company earned the Distinguished Service Award from the Illinois Association for Pupil Transportation/Illinois School Transportation Association, and it earned an IC Bus quota buster award and was named an IC Bus regional dealer of the year in 2008. In 2005, it earned awards from IC Bus, Collins Bus and Mid Bus.
The company has earned many other awards over the years as well.
“We’ve consistently been a quota buster,” Huebner says about the company’s many accomplishments.
Midwest Transit Equipment strives to go above and beyond the business of the school bus industry. Since 2009, the employees and the company have donated $50,000 to United Way of Kankakee County. The company has sponsored a team for Relay for Life in Kankakee County, created a health and wellness program for employees and their spouses, and worked with many other charities. It also released a magazine, Transportation Solutions.
Huebner and Bridgewater credit much of their success as a company to their dedication to service and support for their customers.
The company hosts a website called Midwest Transit University, which has the same online training that its technicians take. These are three-day classes that are held every summer in different states with in-depth training in electronics, brakes and engines. The classes are free and provide manufacturer-level training so professionals can learn about the technology as it develops and changes.
Huebner and Bridgewater explain that the top priorities for Midwest Transit Equipment are to provide safe, reliable equipment and to be honest in all of its dealings with customers. “We believe that safety is first and foremost,” Bridgewater says.
Huebner explains that they have great customers and that when the customers need something, the company and its employees will be there to help and support them. It’s this heavy investment in customer relations and support that has brought Midwest Transit Equipment to the top of the bus industry in the U.S.
Wide range of buses, parts, services
Midwest Transit started in the ’70s by serving 14 counties in Illinois and selling about 50 buses a year. The company started out in larger cities, and as the populations of those cities grew, so did the company’s reach.
In 1977, the company sold over 150 buses and kept growing each year after. Over the years, the company purchased other dealers as well. Today, Midwest Transit Equipment serves Illinois, Indiana, east Missouri and 13 southern counties in Michigan. While the corporate office is located in Kankakee, lll., other locations are in South Holland, Ill., Swansea, Ill., Whitestown, Ind., and Marshall, Mich.
Among the new and used school buses that the company supplies are Starcraft, IC Bus, Collins Bus and Mid Bus units. The buses offered range in size, price, brake type and fuel type to create a large inventory of many choices. In addition, the company has a $4 million parts inventory.
Midwest Transit’s locations have body shops, mechanical shops, air-conditioning installation shops and on-the-road parts sales and delivery. Huebner explains that these services are centered on the customer and the customer’s needs.
The corporate office and four other locations stock over 1,000 buses at any given time and employ over 200 people, many of whom, including Huebner and Bridgewater, work six days a week — a testament to their dedication to meeting their priorities and effectively serving their customers.