Kerlin Bus Sales and Leasing Inc. of Silver Lake, Ind., recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary as Thomas Built Buses’ dealer for the state, and for this family-run company, training for its customers is a top priority.
Kerlin offers training for both school bus drivers and technicians in an effort to ensure that they are well informed on the latest technology in the industry.
“Training is probably one of the best things we can do for our customers,” President Clifford Zehr says.
Keeping drivers, technicians up to speed
In the bus driver training courses, Zehr says drivers who are moving from 10- or 15-year-old buses to newer buses are educated on the new technology and how they should work with it.
The company also invites mechanics from every school district in the state, as well as authorized service center mechanics, to training classes twice a year. Kerlin trains on Thomas Built’s electrical equipment, and it also uses one whole day to instruct on different components of the buses.
Zehr says that the training teaches technicians how to troubleshoot issues using computerized diagnostic equipment, check a bus’ performance and check the fuel mileage of the bus. Technicians are also trained to go online to get the latest information on their buses and to download wiring diagrams.
“Being a mechanic is more than just being able to turn wrenches,” Zehr says.
He also notes that the training is very hands on, and that Kerlin tries to break down the information to make it simpler with less technical terminology. Zehr says he believes this is important because the technicians have to know what is happening and what they are looking at to be able to fix it.
“Knowledge is priceless, as I always say,” he adds.Meeting customers’ needs
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.