Family values, quality and consistency –
the secrets to success at Windstar Lines.
The Greteman brothers of Windstar Lines of Carroll, IA, have a family secret!
In brief: Seek character and nurture talent. Jeff Greteman, Windstar president, says the company has thrived as a family-run business for over 20 years because his parents, the company’s founders, were extremely good at surrounding themselves with people of character and talent. He says that it is extremely important to find quality people who look beyond policies and procedures in order to do what’s right for the company – and most importantly, for the customer.
Jeff Greteman believes that an important part of the Windstar legacy has been in how it defines family. Jeff and his brothers, Scott and Pat, run the organization, and mom, Cathy, and dad, Mike, continue to support day-to-day operations. However, beyond blood relatives, they consider their employees, their suppliers and their customers to be family, too. Jeff says that re-defining “family” has been a fundamental ideal that has helped Windstar elevate its company standards, expectations and performance for everyone affiliated with the organization.
“If your sibling needed time off to care for a sick child, or to celebrate a special occasion, you’d support that,” he says. “We strive to demonstrate to our staff that they are important to us and we appreciate their need for life-balance beyond the workplace.”
This attitude is espoused throughout the organization and the payoff in terms of staff loyalty, commitment and dedication directly benefits Windstar and its customers.
Windstar’s “family-minded” culture, combined with a commitment to growth through infrastructure investment, selective staff and driver recruitment, and a targeted diversification strategy are essential building blocks that support the firm’s long-standing, customer-focused foundation.
Developing a pipeline to the future
Windstar has recently instituted a management training program as a means to find and train future management staff.
“Implementing this training program has many benefits for Windstar and prospective employees,” says Scott Greteman, vice president/director of maintenance and IT. “Candidates can get direct hands-on training, real experience, and mentoring.”
Training is conducted at the main location in Carroll, IA. Customer service, troubleshooting, and safety underscore all aspects of a 12-step training program that moves interns through every functional department within the firm. After successful completion of the program, the trainee may be deployed as a branch manager to other Windstar locations throughout the Midwest region.
According to Scott, the program is designed to enhance productivity, offering an effective way to “try out” candidates, while reducing errors in the field, and making a “good fit” between Windstar and potential full-time employees. He is excited about the long-term potential of utilizing the program as a built-in pipeline to developing a well-trained labor force.
Like most operators today, driver recruitment and retention is always a challenge and Windstar is diligent in its recruitment efforts. “As the face of our business, drivers make the first and last impression on our customers,” says Pat Greteman, vice president. “It’s likely the single most important impression we can make with customers every day. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of customer service to our driver staff.”
In fact, Pat steers the entire driver recruitment process. He personally reviews all applications and resumes, interviews potential candidates, and works with individual branch managers to transition a driver from candidate to employee. He says his proactive involvement is focused on helping Windstar branch managers maintain a full quota of high-quality, highly-trained drivers.
“At Windstar, we will not do anything, unless we do it safely,” he says. “And that is the core principle of our safety program.”
Windstar employs two full-time safety directors to support operations throughout the region. Weekly management and maintenance meetings are inclusive and encourage input and feedback from all staff members including maintenance staff, dispatchers and management.
“We like to keep the lines of communications open, and strive to give our teams an active role in operations,” he adds. “We want their input and their opinions.”
Recognizing a milestone with Van Hool and ABC Companies
Expanding and maintaining its high-line fleet is an ongoing priority, and Windstar has been purchasing Van Hool coaches from ABC Companies since 1995. While ABC and Van Hool are approaching the 10,000th Van Hool delivery to the North American market, Windstar was identified as the recipient of a another milestone. During the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) Motorcoach EXPO 2017 ABC Companies and Van Hool honored Windstar for taking delivery of Van Hool’s 1000th CX45 model since its introduction in November of 2013. Pete Bachrach, ABC senior account manager, has been doing business with the Greteman family since 2002.
Since its market debut last year, The Van Hool CX 45 has quickly become an important staple in the Windstar fleet. With more on order for 2017, Windstar is excited about the flexibility and versatility this model offers.
“We have been able to dramatically diversify our service offering using the CX45”, Jeff Greteman says. “It is perfect for everything from high-end tours and general charter service, to fixed route and shuttle service.”
Plans are in the works to start a scheduled service that will operate from Lincoln, NE to Chicago, IL, taking over a former route that Megabus operated. Windstar plans to supplement the new route utilizing the Van Hool CX45 and C2045 motorcoaches, and sees this as a prime opportunity to diversify their business and continue to explore other new revenue opportunities.
A premium fleet, committed to technology investment
Windstar Lines operates and maintains a fleet of approximately 110 luxury vehicles, with the majority being Van Hool models. Their philosophy of offering the very latest upgrades and technology features is essential to supporting the Windstar premium brand status and reputation for offering an upscale passenger experience.
Interior amenities like AV upgrades, premium seating, upgraded flooring and decorative interior touches are all employed to maximize passenger comfort and in some cases are a direct reflection of Windstar-solicited passenger suggestions. The company also strives to be first-to-market in its region with technology advances and fleet improvements that drive more efficiency, safety and reliability. These technologies include: GPS tracking and navigation, accident event-recorders, on-board DVD, Satellite TV, 110 volt power outlets, and Wi-Fi. All are standards within the fleet.
“Technology investment has helped us grow exponentially year in and out,” says Pat Greteman. “We are constantly on the look-out for new ways to enhance operations.”
Jeff Greteman reports that Windstar has recently implemented a new XRS fleet management system and already sees the benefits the solution offers.
“This platform is very much aligned with many of our business, environmental and safety goals,” he says.
Maintaining full FMSCA compliance is a company priority and XRS operates on mobile devices to efficiently put applications like electronic logging and vehicle inspections in Windstar drivers’ hands. The system delivers a host of cloud-based web tools and applications that give operators real time fleet visibility, alerts, enhanced fleet analysis and more. Jeff maintains that the ability to remotely monitor fleet and driver performance and enhance fleet maintenance workflows, while reducing manual entry, paperwork and record storage are all major advantages. In turn, these advantages contribute to lowering costs and optimizing efficiencies across the board. Windstar first tested the system for six months on the fleet based in the Sioux Falls location prior to rolling it out companywide in October 2016.
Uniformity makes location ramp-up turnkey
Windstar’s business philosophy is to keep things simple and consistent. The brothers have developed a template that overlays all aspects of operations so that each of Windstar’s eight locations are literally a mirror-image of all the others, when possible. This harmonized approach to uniformity has been a driving factor for fast startup of new locations, according to the Greteman brothers. They feel confident that the standardized practices, driver protocols, policies, and even identical equipment specifications all contribute to maximized efficiency and profitability across all operations. Centralized sales, marketing and accounting functions have helped streamline operations. Interconnected communication and information systems optimize response time and enhance fleet visibility and utilization.
“Whether it’s new electronic solutions to enforce changing regulations and compliance, or a better way to communicate with staff and drivers, when we make changes, we make them across the board,” Jeff Greteman says. “Over the years, we’ve learned that consistency brings great results faster and more easily.”
Expansion plans on the horizon
With its main office based in Carroll, IA, Windstar’s service area currently encompasses surrounding regions including the entire state of Iowa, Eastern Nebraska (Lincoln/Omaha and surrounding), and Eastern South Dakota from their Sioux Falls location. Windstar covers the Kansas City Metro area, as well as North Central Illinois from its Rockford facility. Additional expansion plans are on the horizon for 2017 to better serve existing customers and grow market share.
A full remodel of the Sioux Falls facility was recently completed. The rehab project included the installation of a new service pit for easier maintenance performance, as well as a host of energy-efficient features throughout the 10,000 square foot facility including LED lighting and radiant-heated floors.
Windstar’s most recent expansion was in August of 2016 into Rockford, IL with the purchase of Rockford Charter Coach. Windstar already operated from a facility in nearby Rochelle, IL, so it was natural to merge the two into one site, which is the next project of company founder, Mike Greteman. Mike serves as project manager for all company construction projects. Plans for the facility have included upgraded offices, a service pit, energy efficient lighting, as well as additional paved parking for employees and company vehicles. The construction is slated to be complete in the spring of 2017, while they are currently running operations out of the facility.
When asked how is it that three brothers can mesh so well into one unified business partnership, Jeff Greteman says, “We share a very unique chemistry between the three of us. We recognize and respect one another’s individual talents and business acumen. And, we trust each other to take the lead in our respective roles and responsibilities.”
With that said, Greteman is quick to add that the talent and resources of its dedicated staff is the major ingredient in sustaining Windstar’s success!