Originally getting its start in 1971 operating entertainer coaches, Thrasher Brothers Trailways evolved into a charter business when deregulation occurred in the 1980s
Alan Thrasher, president and co-owner, takes pride in being the first in the market to obtain the newest, most advanced vehicles. This doesn’t mean that he spends without thinking, however. “My father taught me to not do everything at once. Buy a few every year, sell a few every year,” he says.
Since his sister Alyce became co-owner in 2007, Thrasher Brothers has doubled its size and revenue. Their oldest coaches are 2007 models, but the majority are 2010s, 2013s and 2015s, with the average age of the fleet being four years old. While they tend to buy new most of the time, they have recently bought remanufactured vehicles in an effort to cut costs.
If there is one thing that can be said about the company, it’s that they are always trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Last year, the company made a deal with Mercedes-Benz in which they teamed up with MBUSA for their “Total Immersion Experience” program — an event where employees come from all over the country to tour the Daimler plant in Vance, Ala. Mercedes-Benz has the only Daimler-owned manufacturing facility in the U.S.; for the last 20 years, it has been exclusively located in Ala. building SUVs, and now, the C-class automobile.
To help accommodate those attending the event, Thrasher ordered four Setra S 417 coaches from MCI. This is the fourth time Thrasher Brothers has traded in a set of used Setras — they normally run them for about four to five years before they trade them out for new models. Fully outfitted with power outlets, a grey-and-black interior, satellite TV, and Wi-Fi, the new motorcoaches are top-of-the-line.
The company’s devotion to quality is apparent, but does not come cheap.
Thrasher’s sales pitch is an unusual one. When places like high schools and private colleges express a desire in using Thrasher Brothers for their transportation needs, he opens by saying, “Before we get started, I’m going to tell you that I’m going to charge you more than you’ve ever been charged.” Naturally, the customers look puzzled, but after Thrasher explains the level of service they will receive, they end up sticking with the company for long after the contract is signed.
So what sets Thrasher Brothers apart from every other motorcoach company? “It’s not what sets us apart; it’s what sets us ahead,” he says.
While there are a few answers, one is diversification. With a variety of equipment options, including sleeper coaches, customers have more choice. In addition to this, Thrasher serves on the boards of the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), the Alabama Motorcoach Association and Trailways. Being involved, enables Thrasher to get news of what’s coming earlier than many other companies, he explains.
Thrasher also places a lot of importance on safety. In fact, they offer pay raise incentives to those who attend the UMA’s Bus and Motorcoach Academy for training. They also have state troopers and others involved in the industry come to give safety lectures as well.
For the last three years, Birmingham Police’s K9 unit has come out to Thrasher Brothers Trailways to do bomb-sniffing training before big events like the beginning of a football season. This past year, they began coming more often due to the recent rise in security threats. They have increased the difficulty of the training by including luggage and running the engines and air conditioning on the buses. There are plans to use this as a model to take to other cities to help eliminate further terrorism threats.
Thrasher explains that the primary challenge the company has had is, “Finding young men with common sense that want to be in this industry.” Be that as it may, it would appear that Thrasher Brothers has no problem running a successful business. With a penchant for staying on top of the latest in the industry, Thrasher says he only has one complaint: “The biggest problem with being lead dog is that everyone’s trying to bite your heels.”