2015 Innovative Operators: Pioneer Trails

Posted on January 6, 2015 by Brittni Rubin

Roughly 90% of Pioneer Trails’ charter business serves the major triangle of cities in Ohio — Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Roughly 90% of Pioneer Trails’ charter business serves the major triangle of cities in Ohio — Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Pioneer Trails is headquartered in Millersburg, Ohio, a part of Holmes County, which is home to the largest Amish population in the U.S. Since the company’s start in 1984, this community has continued to serve as a key part of its business and history.

Dave Swartzentruber, Pioneer Trails’ founder, originally ran a car dealership. Over time, however, he noticed a great deal of Amish people with a need to commute down to Pinecraft, a small Amish neighborhood in Sarasota, Fla., in the winter months.

As the Amish cannot drive themselves as a part of their beliefs, Swartzentruber began renting 15-passenger vans from the dealership and offering his transportation services.

Out of this yearly trek evolved the idea for Pioneer Trails. Swartzentruber eventually bought his first motorcoach, an MCI 971 MC-7, and business grew from there. The company is family-owned and operated with Swartzentruber’s son, Wendyl, currently serving as GM.

Although Pioneer Trails has now expanded beyond just line runs to Florida, the service still remains an essential part of the company’s offerings.

“We’ve grown a lot in the past 20 years, but the Florida run continues to grow every year as well, and it’s good for business in the slower months of winter for a company our size,” says Wendyl Swartzentruber. “We really have a niche business here when you incorporate the Amish community.”

Pioneer Trails constantly makes improvements to its Florida trips. In the past year, an assigned seating system was implemented.

“It’s working out really well,” Wendyl says. “The process is more work for our organization, but customers seem a bit more relaxed when they don’t have to worry about getting there early to get the seat they want.”

The company also purchased a new six-post Ari-Hetra lift system as well as a new Van Hool TX motorcoach in early August 2014. The 45-foot vehicle features hardwood flooring, leather seating, an expanded luggage compartment, 110-volt outlets and Wi-Fi for all passengers.

“I got a chance to visit the Van Hool factory in Belgium when the motorcoach was being built,” Wendyl says. “We really liked its quality and wanted to stay on the cutting edge of technology for our customers. So far, we’ve gotten great comments back.”

Pioneer Trails’ tour division has a full schedule of tours throughout the year, including a four-week trip to the west coast and a two-week Nova Scotia trip. Roughly 90% of the company’s charter business serves the major triangle of cities in Ohio — Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. However, Pioneer Trails does travel to all 50 states.  

Exciting things lie ahead for the company as they are in the process of a complete website redesign. Features will include a comprehensive online reservation system, with an expected launch date of the second quarter of 2015.

Pioneer Trails has also incorporated a new targeted-marketing strategy for its tour business to spread word of their services to other Amish communities within Ohio and its surrounding states.

Additionally, the company has hired the Ruby Group, a firm that provides a unique approach to customer service training.

“They concentrate on reading and recognizing personalities and creating individual interaction plans,” says Wendyl. “Hopefully all employees will start by February of 2015.”

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