When Krapf School Bus acquired Birnie Bus in June, the company made one of its most significant expansions to date. The acquisition adds about 1,325 employees and about 875 vehicles, according to Blake Krapf, president and CEO of the Krapf Group, the parent company of Krapf School Bus.
For Blake, the decision to acquire Birnie Bus was cultural, as much as it was financial.
“When we look at opportunities, we are interested in making sure that it’s the right cultural fit,” he says. “While it’s important to make sure that an acquisition is a sound business decision, Krapf School Bus is focused on doing so while maintaining its core values.”
Importance of Shared Values
In determining whether an acquisition opportunity would be a good fit for the company, Blake says Krapf looks for an organization that shares similar goals, values, a commitment to high-quality service, and a dedication to providing safe service. A good management team and consistently high-performing drivers are also key factors.
It is precisely those characteristics that made Birnie Bus an ideal fit for Krapf.
“They have a strong management team. They have an excellent reputation for safety and service. They have actively supported the industry associations for the improvement of the overall industry,” Blake says. “Those are all things we’ve done here at Krapf as well, so really it merges two very similar profiles and [enables us] to further improve on all of those things that the two companies have been doing independently.”
One of the company’s biggest challenges in the expansion is keeping Krapf operating like a family business, Blake says, which is why the company looked toward Birnie Bus, which has been run by President and CEO Tim Birnie, as well as his father, Martin K. Birnie.
“[Tim Birnie] was really a one-man show for a huge business,” says Dale Krapf, chairman of the board for the Krapf Group, and Blake’s father. “But he didn’t want to sell that business to someone who was just going to roll that over and sell it to the next big conglomerate that comes down the road two or three years from now. He wanted to sell it to someone who had the same family spirit and family values that we had.”
Those Krapf values, according to Dale, are “commitment, open communication, respecting others, and excellent service.” The values were first established by his parents after founding the company.
Krapf’s familial values ring true with Vera Brooks, a school bus driver, examiner, and instructor for Krapf School Bus. Brooks, who has worked for the company for 37 years, started out as a driver. Despite nearly 40 years of growth and expansion, employees still see members of the Krapf family onsite.
“I work in different locations and at any given time, you can see one of the owners coming by and talking and saying hi,” Brooks says. “They’ll even talk to new hires, too. They might not know them by name, but they’ll say hi to them and talk to them, just like a coworker.”
For Blake, seeking the right cultural fit for Krapf is also a way to prepare for the future. Family-owned companies with a tight-knit culture are better suited to take on future changes in the industry.
“Even with this acquisition, we’re not a large corporation. We’re still a family-owned, hands-on management,” he says. “Certainly there’s a lot of new technology in our industry, and customers’ expectations have changed rapidly in accordance with technological developments, so we have the ability to recognize that and adapt quickly.”
Family-owned companies such as these two are also able to make changes and adapt to fit the needs of their customers and their employees without as much concern for stockholders or quarterly stock reports, Blake says.
Beyond sharing similar values, both companies have enjoyed a similar longevity, with Birnie Bus starting 70 years ago in 1947 and Krapf celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
George Krapf Jr. and Sons was founded in 1942, beginning with only two buses in operation, shuttling students to and from the Downingtown, Pennsylvania, school district.
George’s business was located in the heart of Chester County, which was gradually transforming from what was once primarily rural farmland to a suburban area. Over the next 50 years, as the area developed and the school systems evolved to keep pace, Krapf School Bus grew along with the area.
The company began its school bus services to accommodate the modernization of schools that occurred across the country, as schools transitioned from being single classrooms that sometimes housed all 12 grades, to the high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools that are present today, according to Dale. By 1950, the number of school buses that the company operated grew to about eight to 10.
George’s business acumen, his strong commitment to excellence, and the addition of his two sons to the business afforded the company the ability to position itself to handle that steady growth, according to Blake.
In 1996, the company began expanding beyond the local confines of its neighboring school districts, winning bids that allowed its fleet to grow to 500 or 600 buses, Dale says.
Now, with the acquisition of Birnie Bus, Krapf School Bus will operate a total of 2,500 school buses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Virginia. Krapf School Bus will take over more than 70 contracts with school districts and preschools as well.
After the acquisition and anniversary celebration, the main goal of Krapf School Bus is simply to keep offering the same level of service for the next 75 years. Whatever future opportunities lie in wait for Krapf, the approach in acquiring Birnie Bus is the framework for the company’s growth, Blake says.
“We don’t have a goal as far as X number of buses or X number of locations or annual revenue. In the business world, people might say that that’s crazy, but that’s not how we approach it,” he adds. “Can we continue to provide high quality and treat our employees the way we should and treat our customers the way we should? If we can do all those things, then we look at the financial conditions.”