The Customer is No.1

ABC Companies still operates on its founder’s belief in customer service

by Matt Poe

ABC Companies got started in 1972 because Clancy Cornell liked buying and selling buses, according to his grandson, Roman, who is executive vice president and chief commercial officer for the company.

Clancy Cornell

However, Clancy’s roots were in operating bus equipment. He started out running a bus service in Iowa and then started getting into buying and selling.

“When he moved over to the dealership side, he knew what it was like out on the street, on the road, and he instilled in the entire organization, the customer is number one,” Roman says.

Even though the business has grown from selling to mom-and-pop businesses to dealing with large corporations, ABC Companies doesn’t forget that its roots are firmly based in sales to one- or two-coach customers, and that it needs to provide excellent customer service.

“It’s the same thing with our customers who started with one used bus from us, and they’ve grown to a hundred-plus buses and buying dozens of new,” shares Roman. “We grew with them, and they grew with us. But, and we always talk about this, we cannot forget where we come from, and we have to take care of the person buying one bus or the person who’s buying fifty-plus a year from us.”

On the pre-owned side of the business, the company is now the largest seller of pre-owned coaches in the country. In 1987, ABC Companies added new motorcoaches to its offering by partnering with Van Hool.

“We’ve grown the Van Hool line in the United States, from the first year when we sold roughly twenty units, up to over six hundred units that are sold into the North American market,” shares Roman.

A lot of the company’s business comes from privately held motorcoach operators, from tech companies in California offering employment transportation to companies that have equipment on line runs doing city-to-city pairings.

So, how does ABC Companies make sure that each customer gets the right bus?

“The first thing is you have to ask a lot of questions and figure out what the vehicle is going to be doing,” Roman says. “It’s important that the person buys the right equipment from you. After all, they need to be successful, and when our customers are successful, we’re successful because they come back.”

Matching a customer with the right technology to bring them success is key, says Thom Peebles, vice president of marketing for ABC Companies. “Every business is different. The technology gives us the opportunity to further customize what we offer what that customer actually needs.”

ABC Companies offers buses in 35-, 40- and 45-foot-long options, as well as a double decker. In addition, it has 10 locations around the country to help provide excellent customer service.

“We have a saying around here that the sales group can sell the first bus, but the service department and the parts department and our after-sales care, they sell the second bus,” says Roman. “That’s a $550,000 piece of machinery out there. If you cannot get parts and service or information to fix it, it’s worthless. So, we focus a lot on training our customers.”

The rapid growth and impact of technology is going to be interesting to watch, he says.

“The future of the product will incorporate predictive analysis tools and anticipate needs, reducing costs and prevent revenue interruption,” Roman believes.

The future of ABC Companies is to continue expanding existing facilities and explore expansion into other markets. However, that future will be firmly rooted in the company’s past.

“Everybody here starts with the customer,” adds Peebles. “Whether it’s technology or how we’re expanding in different markets, it all comes down to someone asking the question: How am I going to do this for my customer or what’s the best way to service an existing customer?”

According to Roman, his grandfather’s philosophy of the customer being No. 1 still resonates above all.

“We continue to talk about it with every aspect of our business,” he says. “This is a service-oriented business that happens to sell buses.”

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