For many, purchasing an automobile can be a nerve-racking experience. However, when making a six-figure investment into a vehicle that will be the cornerstone of your business’ newest contract, the shopping experience is even more intense.
Whether you are a private operator with hundreds of vehicles, a community paratransit provider or a local church group, chances are you will purchase your bus from a dealer. Outside of just selling you a bus, though, dealers provide a wealth of knowledge, services, and experience that can help simplify the process and ensure you choose the right vehicle to fit your needs.
There are many bus companies and hundreds of bus models out there, so perhaps the top benefit a bus dealer can provide is product knowledge.
“So much of the bus-buying process comes down to building trust between dealer and customer. And, so much of that trust happens when the customer truly knows that dealer is thinking, ‘what’s best for my customer?’ Rather than ‘what’s best for me?’” says Gerrit Gustafson, marketing director for Carpenter Bus Sales. “I think they call that ‘the Golden Rule.’”
The best way to build that trust is the dealer’s ability to share the vehicle history and vehicle manufacturer information when discussing the market and value of the buses they are searching for.
“Our sales team can counsel operators and other customers about the best time to turn a unit in, what people are buying, and what is working and trending in the marketplace,” says Scott Duffy, director, sales, for Don Brown Bus Sales.
Both Duffy and Gustafson agree that although their seasoned operators know the business inside/out, there’s always knowledge or help a dealer can impart, which will help with buying decisions.
“Our operators are very smart business people. We work with them intimately to find the best fit for their needs in the timeliest manner possible,” Duffy explains.
A dealer’s product knowledge probably comes most into play, then, when the unseasoned or first-time buyers visit the dealership to make a purchase.
“A church generally only buys a bus every six or eight years, and the ones who are in charge of purchasing may never have bought a bus before,” says Gustafson. “For them, there is much more of an educational process required. They may not know that drivers for buses over 15 passengers will need a commercial driver’s license. They probably don’t know who the various bus manufacturers are. And regularly, they are just getting an idea of what a good reliable bus will cost.”
Since most of the time an operator will purchase a bus to satisfy a specific contract, a dealer’s product knowledge can help a buyer understand what vehicle can best suit the needs of that contract based on such factors as lifecycle, cost and insurance.
For the most part, bus dealers are like a one-stop shop, providing a range of services from financing to upfitting vehicles.
“One of the main benefits our customers tell us they appreciate is the extended new bus warranty,” Gustafson explains. “We provide, at no additional cost, a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty on every new bus we sell. We also offer, at a minimal cost, an upgraded seven-year/70,000-mile warranty. This assures them of worry-free operation of the bus year after year.”
Dealerships also offer financing options, from leasing to buying, and can even help those operators who may not have pristine credit get into the vehicle they like.
Dealerships, such as Don Brown Bus Sales, also have a full service center that provides the best service to its customers if there are issues in the field. Normally, when clients have issues with their equipment it requires as close to instant help as possible and the dealership does everything it can to attain that type of support, Duffy explains.
“We can service myriad chassis and body issues because we are one of the largest stocking dealers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and have the ability to ship parts immediately,” he says.
The service center also enables Don Brown to purchase and freshen up used vehicles to either get them ready for sale on the lot or to fill an existing customer’s pre-owned needs.
Finally, maybe the most important benefit a dealer can provide is a working relationship with somebody who is uniquely able to provide buyers with a commodity that is vital to their business.
By forging a relationship with a dealer who has knowledge of vehicles on the market, it can ultimately help operators build the purchasing process into their business plans.
“We have many resources that allow us to help clients with trade-ins,” says Duffy. “Our vast network of customers who are always looking for used vehicles, can normally make an offer on units that our clients are trying to sell so that they can move in to something new. We can also help by keeping our eyes and ears on the market and alert an operator when there’s a vehicle they have been looking for becomes available.”