Where there’s a niche, there’s a way
Thomas Built Buses makes a calculated leap with MyBus
By Bethanie Hestermann
Professionals at Thomas Built Buses, High Point, NC, a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America, spent the last twelve months cultivating a new business venture from the germination of an idea to the full construction of MyBus, the company’s latest addition to its line up.
Designed for simplicity, safety and style, Thomas Built plans to position this new multi-function student activity bus (MFSAB) as the solution for small organizations that frequently move people but are not in the people-moving business, such as childcare centers, churches and community organizations.
The niche has always existed in the transportation market. But Bob West, MyBus product manager, says the unique needs of these clients were not being fully met and the opportunity was too ripe to ignore. Building on its successful Minotour model—a Type A vehicle designed primarily for the school bus market—the company analyzed the niche and responded with MyBus.
Easy does it
John O’Leary, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses, says non-traditional small bus customers such as youth groups, YMCAs and daycare centers are likely MyBus customers.
“Unlike school transportation departments, customers in this market segment are not bus experts and do not need or want a product with a complex list of options,” says O’Leary. “They are looking for a simple, low-cost transportation solution that is safer than a 15-passenger van and just as easy to drive.”
Unlike the Minotour, its sister product that has hundreds of options, MyBus comes in only three models with very simple options:
- The SRW is the same width as a passenger van for around-town trips and seats up to 14 passengers, which does not require a commercial vehicle license in many states.
- The DRW 041 has dual rear wheels, room for 20 passengers and optional coach seating.
- The DRW 051 has dual rear wheels, can seat 30 passengers and also has optional coach seating.
All seats meet FMVSS standards and seatbelts are available in all three models.
“The same engineering and materials that go into our big school buses go into the MyBus line,” says West. “This means MyBus has a standard steel cage body with one-piece roof frames, 16-gage metal side panels, roof and side crash rail protection and steel buffers with a wrap-around design.”
Other features include a rear emergency exit door, full-height 73-inch interior head room and a wide center aisle. West says options include overhead luggage racks and storage compartments in the rear of the vehicle.
MFSABs must meet the same safety standards as school buses, but do not require a stop arm, traffic control lights or a yellow paint job. O’Leary says year after year studies show that school buses, which include MFSABs, are the safest form of surface transportation available to the public—a prime selling point for MyBus over passenger vans.
Part of the MyBus objective is to ensure the product is easy to buy. For this reason West says they plan to keep the product in inventory at Thomas dealers nationwide, so that customers can look at the bus one day and drive it off the lot the next day.
“What we’ve been able to do with MyBus is to create a separate business unit with its own resources and distribution channel,” O’Leary says. “The niche calls for a different product, different sales and marketing strategies and a different mindset from the manufacturer and our dealers.”
West says the new line is durable, reliable and easy to repair. Built on a GM chassis, MyBus can receive service at any local GM dealer. The company plans to tout the fact that Thomas Built has dedicated MyBus service professionals in every state and province to maintain the product, as well as an extensive customer service network throughout North America.
“We recognize there’s a difference between selling to schools and to what we internally refer to as this ‘non-traditional’ market,” says West. “Our marketing efforts will be more Internet-focused because MyBus customers prefer to do their research online as opposed to sorting through manufacturer specs and bid sheets.”
He says the company conducted a lot of research up front, collecting good input from customers and dealers in the early stages of development. The enthusiasm among employees also helped move the project along quickly.
Despite the economic recession, West says Thomas Built is committed to innovation and leadership in the industry and the introduction of MyBus is no exception.
“We have the niche, we have the product and we have the sales and service organizations to make it successful,” says West. “MyBus is an exciting project, and we are off to a great start.” BR