Uniquely enough, Wichita, Kan.-based Village Travel didn’t begin as a motorcoach operation, but rather as a ski tour company, scheduling trips for folks who wanted to fly from Kansas to hit the slopes in the Denver region. The business grew so much that soon the original owners bought their first bus to shuttle customers from the airport in Denver to the mountains, with the business evolving again once the ski season was over.
“When the original owners brought that first bus back to Wichita, they started doing charters and day trips out to Kansas City to watch the Royals play,” explains current owner Jeff Arensdorf, who bought the company from its original family owners with his father in 2000. He adds that eventually the company’s plane trips became luxury motorcoach ski trips, with the company adding sleeper seats on late-model equipment.
From there, the company started providing different types of charters and tours, growing at a conservative pace of about one coach a year, explains Arensdorf. By 1999, Village had a fleet of 15 motorcoaches, but the original owners decided to embark on a different business venture.
Just a couple of years out of college and working in the corporate world, Arensdorf was looking to start his own business, so he enlisted the help of his father and together they began to explore opportunities.
“My dad had a relationship with the family because he was their fuel and lubricant provider, so he called on them often,” he says. Soon that relationship would lead to a chance meeting at a church breakfast fundraiser and then a more formal meeting to discuss the possibility that the Arensdorfs acquire the business.
In May 2000, the Arensdorfs closed the deal for the operation and began their departure down the road of motorcoach company ownership, “hoping not to break anything” along the way, since the company was already a success, Arensdorf explains.
Once they negotiated the learning curve, the Arensdorfs continued to grow Village at the same conservative pace as the former owners, adding a bus or two a year, before expanding to Oklahoma City in 2005. In 2011, Village had an opportunity to acquire a business in Salina, Kan., and since then its growth began to snowball.
“Since 2011, we have either expanded our business into another market or made an acquisition every year,” says Arensdorf. “At the end of the day, our rapid growth over the last nine years has led to us being in seven different markets with a fleet of 139 motorcoaches.” Village Travel’s fleet is comprised almost entirely of MCI and Prevost coaches.
Heading into his 20th year of ownership, Arensdorf is poised to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary in 2020. In anticipation of the event, as well as looking at a way to re-establish its identity, Village recently completed a rebrand of its company and fleet.
“The company started out as Alpine Village Tours, but when it bought its first bus, they painted Village Charters on it and the company operated primarily as Village Charters in the public eye for several years,” explains Arensdorf. “Then, they started using Village Tours for all their advertising and by the mid-'90s had some buses running around branded as Village Charters, while some other buses had the Village Tours branding.”
Trying to make some sense of all the names they inherited, Arensdorf explains they eventually decided to focus on Village Tours and Travel as a company, while using the Village Tours logo on its fleet. Soon, Village began to question whether tours was a true representation of the services the company provided. Enter a local marketing and branding company.
“I laid out everything for them — all of our logos and company names in the past — and they eventually came back with Village Travel,” Arensdorf says. “We thought the word travel worked great because it encompassed everything we are doing, which is moving people.”
He adds the move to Village Travel brings a dynamic that gives the company the chance to continue charging ahead.
“I feel like every 20 years or so, it’s a good idea for a company to reinvent itself and get an influx of new ideas coming in to drive growth,” Arensdorf.
In addition to the rebrand, Village Travel also opened a new 47,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Wichita.
“The original founders built a building literally in the back of a wheat field when they had just four coaches," Arensdorf explains. “That building had been expanded three times over the years to about 20,000 square feet with five bays, so we just outgrew it. Plus, the town exploded with growth, and we were located on the third-busiest intersection in the city, so it was hard to get coaches in and out.”
Village’s new headquarters not only houses most of its administrative staff and motorcoach fleet, it also includes a new “departure center,” which includes two covered, heated bays and a lounge area that seats up to 100 people.
“Our customers pull up along that bay area, unload their luggage, and then park their cars before walking over to the center to check in for their trip and meet their tour guide,” Arensdorf says. “It’s a real nice setup and our customers really love it.”
Village’s new headquarters is completely paved and has parking for up to 17 coaches indoors and an additional 52 coaches outside, in an area that also includes block heaters and shore power for its entertainer coaches.
In addition to using its used waste oil for heating the shop, Village’s new facility also includes four pits, space for ample parts inventory, a wash bay that can accommodate two coaches at a time, and eventually a body shop and paint booth so the operation can do its own repairs, as well as potentially open up a new revenue stream by offering services to other fleets in the area.
For staff, Village’s new headquarters includes a drivers lounge that is open 24/7, as well as two “hotel” rooms that drivers can check out at no charge to get rest before or after a trip.
Looking down the road, Village Travel has begun to bring in new management personnel who are fresh to the industry, with Arensdorf saying he has been willing to cede control to allow them to try out their ideas, new or old, to see if they can be successful.
“Even if it’s something we’ve tried before and it didn’t work, I’m willing to give it a try again, because I want to remain receptive and don’t want to discourage them,” he says. “I also don’t mind taking a risk, as long as it’s a calculated risk and it is something that can help transform and add value to the way we do things here.”
Arensdorf adds that Village Travel’s business diversification has been one if its keys to lasting success.
“We have multiple locations and market segments, including tours, charters, fixed-line service, a travel agency, and an entertainer line, so we essentially have five income streams in seven locations,” he says. “Our business diversification has been very nice, and it helps me sleep well at night because all of our eggs aren’t just in one basket.”