January 2013

2013 Innovative Operators: B&W Charters

by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor

Starting out as a collaboration sparked by friendship, B&W Charters, in operation for two generations, evolved from a single motorcoach in 1983 to the sizable fleet of 16- to 56- passenger motorcoaches, vans and trolleys it is today.

Two friends, Paul Best and Gene Wright, combined their business management and coach company experience and started a motorcoach operation together to provide top-notch charter service to the Kalamazoo, Mich. area. Over the years, the company expanded its service throughout southwestern Michigan and beyond. While still headquartered in Kalamazoo, B&W is now accessible to many major cities in the region, including Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich., as well as South Bend, Ind.

B&W recently found a way to diversify its business when its coaches aren’t running as frequently by partnering with a local bus broker to introduce a trolley service last year, purchasing two Hometown Trolley vehicles.

“We try, like most forward-thinking businesses, to capitalize on opportunities when we can,” Gene Wright II, GM, B&W Charters, says.
The trolleys are particularly popular as a transportation option for weddings, which are by far the most sought-after service B&W offers.

“We really haven’t done any advertising for them, but they’re booked up most weekends during the wedding season,” Wright II says. “Some brides want an option other than a limo. They don’t want to crawl over people. They want to be able to walk around [and] not wrinkle their dress before they get to the reception.”

In reaction to the trend toward smaller groups seen by many motorcoach carriers around the country, and to keep diversifying its services, B&W also uses smaller, 14- to 29-passenger vehicles and minibuses, which are popular for weddings as well.

Meanwhile, events such as holiday and light tours keep the trolleys running in the winter. Families often come to downtown Kalamazoo to ride the trolleys as a holiday tradition.

In addition to its unique vehicle offerings, B&W stands apart from other carriers with its service and follow-up by collaborating with its customers as they plan important events, Wright II says.

“I’ve spoken with prospective clients that have had poor experiences in the past. They often tell me that previous companies they have worked with didn’t seem to value them as a client,” he adds. “[Some companies] don’t partner with the customer to provide the service. It really is a partnership. If you’re not really paying attention, listening and asking what’s important to them, you’re just hired help. If you partner with them, it adds an extra touch and lets them know you care.”

That entails working with customers on the shuttle schedule, making recommendations on pickups, timing and going over itineraries to make sure the scheduling is realistic, Wright II says.

“A lot of times they don’t think about loading and unloading time, but when you’re running a tight schedule and want everything to go right on time, [it could] throw things off by 15 to 20 minutes per run, through the night,” he explains. “It doesn’t have to happen that way. You can’t protect against everything, but most of the time, everything works the way it’s supposed to with proper planning.”

While these efforts require more time, Wright II adds, B&W has communication templates in place to increase efficiencies, creating more time to work with customers on their plans.

“That results in not having to add staff but just having [our] staff work more efficiently. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we work with a new client,” he says.


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