Chris Shigley, national sales manager for Radio Engineering Industries (REI), joined the Omaha, Neb.-based transportation electronics company in the summer of 2009 after working in software sales for about 10 years.

With the company celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Shigley talks with SBF Managing Editor Kelly Roher about its transition from a radio sales and repair store to what it is today.

Central to REI’s mission since it was founded is excellent customer service, and Shigley says when it comes to answering customers’ calls and addressing their needs, it’s “all hands on deck.”

“We don’t want to be of the mentality, ‘We’ll take a message and get back to you.’ We want to take care of you when you have that need,” he explains.

Shigley also discusses the customers’ influence on REI’s product lines, new developments and trends he’s seeing in the school bus market.

SBF: REI is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Tell me about the company’s history.
CHRIS SHIGLEY: REI started in 1938 as a local radio sales and repair store, and we focused on radio repair and service through the next few decades. In the 1970s, we focused more on sales and distribution instead of just radio repair and sales. We took on lines such as Panasonic, Sharp, Sony and Delco Electronics.

We discovered as we became a distributor of products there were niche markets or markets that were not being properly served for the needs that people had. We began to diversify and develop and sell tractor radios, agriculture kits, school bus radios, etc. That slowly grew the company from being a distributor into manufacturing our own products.

We engaged customers within these niche markets to learn what their needs were and we dynamically grew and developed our own engineering teams and research and development teams to bring these products to bear.

The company recently reported that for members of the REI family, the greatest lesson they learned from their father, Robert Hays, is “treating the customer like family.” What are some ways you and other company employees put this into practice?
We’re always speaking and interfacing with our customers. One thing I pride ourselves on is listening to the needs of our customers; we want to bring products to the market they’re asking for. The way we do that is by forming strong relationships. Our customers become, in many cases, lifelong customers.

We constantly look to our customers to tell us what they need, and once we give them those products, we provide them with our 24/7 service and support lines. We’re always going to answer your call, no matter when you call.

That’s the family cornerstone: service. When you have a family member who’s in need, you drop everything and you do what you need to do to help them out. That’s the mantra we have with our customers.

Are there new developments at REI that you’d like to mention?
One of the largest projects currently is our stop-arm solution, A.R.M.O.R.-StopArm. It’s a two-piece solution. It’s not only the hardware making it possible to capture the license plate and the information on the vehicle when it passes a bus with the stop arm active — we’ve incorporated our new web-based A.R.M.O.R.-StopArm software solution. By combining the hardware and software solution, you’ll automatically receive a stop-arm violation report. The report provides a clear image of the violator’s license plate, vehicle information, violation location and date/time.

We can capture this information with literally zero human interaction. This, to us, is one of the most advanced systems available when it comes to capturing and reporting stop-arm violations.

Another major step REI has taken is the development of A.R.M.O.R.-Insight. It’s a user-friendly executive dashboard of your fleet. At the end of the day when all of your vehicles come in, the fleet or vehicle information passes through the wireless DVRs to a central server that processes and configures the data into easy-to-view charts and graphs. Fleet managers can view how many miles the fleet traveled in a day, the top speed events of the fleet, any G force or hard braking events, etc. A.R.M.O.R.-Insight captures fleet or individual buses’ information, which helps improve efficiencies.

I’m just scratching the surface of the parameters of A.R.M.O.R.-Insight. We also use an interface called J1939 to read all of the vehicle codes, as well as self-diagnose the DVR. A.R.M.O.R.-Insight becomes a very powerful tool for an operator to learn what’s happening in his or her fleet from day to day.

REI also continues to enhance our family of DVRs. We’ve added new DVRs with increased frames per second, storage space, J1939 interface and a smaller footprint. REI provides a variety of DVR choices to customize a mobile video surveillance solution to meet the school’s need and budget.  Our DVR family includes the HD800, HD420, DR40 and SD40 with a variety of storage space choices.

REI continues to develop our mobile video surveillance solution by providing user-friendly tools like the software I previously mentioned.  When combining our new A.R.M.O.R. software and DVRs,  we’re providing a durable, robust solution that we’re proud to say is protecting children, drivers and the school’s fleet.

What are some trends you’re seeing in the school bus market?
Stop-arm violation awareness is a definite trend, and it follows with putting more cameras on a bus. It used to be just one camera, or two, or maybe three. With our A.R.M.O.R.-StopArm solution, we’re putting five to 10 cameras on a single school bus to capture not only the stop-arm side of the vehicle, but the passenger exit side of the vehicle as well.

REI doesn’t see this trend coming and going but taking a much needed stronghold in the market. Safety is vital to our children and schools.

So you’re seeing growth in terms of school bus operations using video surveillance systems on their school buses. What do you attribute this growth to?
The key reasons why we’re seeing increased camera surveillance on buses is, No. 1, the stop-arm violation solution, and if I’m going to put a couple of cameras on my bus on the outside, I also want to see what’s happening on the inside of the bus due to bullying and other safety concerns.

Customers want to make sure they can actively and proactively pursue those concerns, and video surveillance provides them that capability to the highest level. I believe that for many districts, it’s a must have.

Stop-arm cameras on school buses have gone from a negligible percentage from when I started to, in my opinion, almost half the schools have an interest in stop-arm cameras. I know that number grows daily.

What kinds of results are you seeing from school bus operations outfitting their buses with stop-arm cameras?
Stop-arm violation reporting is still in its infancy; therefore, statistics are still being compiled.

We’ve not yet had the opportunity to correlate stop-arm reporting with a reduction in injuries and fatalities. The initial response from what REI hears in the field is an increased community awareness and overwhelming reduction of violations. It’s this collection of data and response from our customers that keeps us hopeful we’re making a substantial safety impact in the market.

I use the example of a city that institutes stop-light violation cameras. There’s a documented large percentage decrease in the number of red-light violators in cities that institute those programs. I’m hopeful for the safety of the children that our industry sees the same positive results. That’s why REI continues to develop and test products that will exceed the demands of our marketplace.