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January 2013

2013 Innovative Operator: Windstar Lines

Jeff Greteman, president of Windstar Lines, comes from a family of transportation industry veterans and a long line of entrepreneurs. Growing up, his mother and father, Mike and Cathy Greteman, owned and operated a travel agency, which contracted outside motorcoach companies before acquiring its own fleet.

“They were never satisfied with the quality of area operators, so after two or three years of research, my folks decided to buy buses,” Greteman says. “After a while, that division was just flailing so my dad was either going to sell the buses or hire somebody to run them. That’s where I came on board.”

In 1997, when Greteman took control, the motorcoach division grew into its own charter and tour service, serving mainly churches, schools and other large groups. Greteman received his degree in transportation logistics and always aspired to work in the field. While his two brothers Scott and Pat were in college, they helped out until their jobs turned into full-time positions as well.

“The three of us really just grew the motorcoach company to what it is today,” Greteman says.

Seventeen years later, the company has 56 motorcoaches, 120 drivers and operates out of six major locations: Carroll, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Dubuque, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; and Rochelle, Ill.

The company has grown both organically and through acquisitions. Over the past 12 years, Windstar Lines purchased about 10 smaller motorcoach companies. Every year Greteman tries to modernize the fleet; customers are offered 20- to 56-passenger standard, deluxe, VIP and sleeper motorcoaches.

According to Greteman, having such industry-experienced family members has helped his team make all the right moves to stay competitive in the market.

“My mom is an expert in tour and travel — she’s been in the business for the last 30 years and was recently the chairman and CEO of the National Tour Association. My dad is in the insurance and real estate business and has a great deal of expertise applying his skills to our field,” Greteman says. “It’s nice that we have people to assist us when we’re making larger decisions; experts to bounce ideas off of.”

Customer service has been key for the company, which has numerous small- to mid-sized clients.

“We always believe that the customer is right, and we’re doing everything we can to provide top-notch service at a competitive price with modern equipment and safe, friendly drivers,” says Greteman. “We don’t have a big secret, it’s just a combination of little things we’re doing as well as we possibly can.”

Windstar Lines has also produced a detailed customer survey offered for clients to take after each ride.

“The surveys impact our business directly and we share everything with our staff members,” says Greteman. “They either get a pat on the back or find out what we need to improve on. We don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”

The company offers a new hire training program for all new drivers in addition to monthly safety meetings at each location. Windstar Lines has also recently installed Idrive, an accident event recorder, in each motorcoach, as well as a GPS system. The GPS has helped Windstar Lines reduce its idle time by 10% to 15% over the last four years, Greteman says.

“It has been a lot of fun and it’s definitely a challenge, but a rewarding one,” Greteman says. “Once it gets in your blood, it’s tough to get out of the bus business.”

Windstar Lines’ executive board continues to keep its eye on expansion. On the side, Greteman runs and owns a small trucking company purchased four years ago called Windstar Express. There are several other divisions within the Windstar brand.


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