John and Stephanie Ferrari of AFC Transportation in Houston. John Ferrari will serve as CEO of TBL Group Inc., the newly formed owner of the merged AFC and Echo Transportation in Dallas. (LCT file photo)
HOUSTON — Two of the biggest transportation companies in the two biggest cities of America’s second fastest growing state closed a deal Aug. 25 to form a single company weighted heavily toward all types of bus transportation.
AFC Transportation of Houston and Echo Transportation of Dallas formed a new corporate entity called TBL Group Inc., which now owns both companies. Combined, the companies will operate more than 300 vehicles, with about 250 of them ranging from all types of mini-buses to chartered motorcoaches. AFC brings 140 vehicles and Echo about 160. The combined companies would rank No. 7 on the 2015 LCT 50 Largest Fleets List.
Financial terms of the merger and estimated annual revenues of the privately held companies were not disclosed.
Under the deal, AFC and Echo will operate under their respective brands and websites, and keep all company-owned facilities and employees. TBL Group, to be headquartered in Houston, has about 500 employees.
TBL Group’s ownership structure will include five key partners: AFC CEO John Ferrari and his father, Sonny El-Lahham (Chairman) and Echo owning partners Chris Jarrard (President & COO), Tanner West (CFO), and Thom Fox (CMO), who all have seats on the new board of directors. Ferrari will serve as CEO of the combined operations.
The merger brings together a diverse network of locations, which include AFC’s operations in Houston and Jacksonville, Fla., and Echo’s operations in Dallas; the Texas cities of San Angelo, Tyler and Waco; Big Piney, Wyoming; and Alaska locations, including Anchorage.
“We’d been talking, and we approached Echo,” Ferrari told LCT about the deal. “We’d been working for a year [as affiliates] and saw it was a perfect fit of like minds, culture and strategy. In a perfect marriage, two heads are better than one; we now have five heads.”
AFC, founded in 1992, and Echo, founded in 2010, will offer the full range of chauffeured luxury vehicles and all types of buses and vans. The company includes transit and school bus vehicles. About one-third of the fleet consists of large, chartered motorcoaches.
“Even though we are similar with what we do, the way things are serviced are different,” Ferrari said. “We have different techniques and technologies. It’s a strong combination as a whole that provides clients one unified company in many different cities and states.”
TBL Group plans to grow into other U.S. locations, with a focus on expanded operations within the Texas Golden Triangle of Houston, Dallas, and Austin/San Antonio. The company has a mobile app and plans to move toward offering on-demand service next year.
Ferrari estimates that the combined operations will be based on a client breakdown of about 50% charter runs; 25% campus, school and municipality transit and shuttle work; and 25% line-runs and traditional chauffeured transportation services. Clients include Fortune 500 companies and major universities.
Major airports served include Dallas/Ft. Worth International, Love Field, George H.W. Bush Houston Intercontinental, Houston Hobby, and Jacksonville, Fla.