Vehicles

ABC Companies Builds Lasting Loyalty For Van Hool Brand

Martin Romjue
Posted on November 2, 2017
The Cornell family has run ABC Companies for three decades. (L to R):  Roman Cornell, chief commercial officer/EVP; Ryhan Cornell account manager; Ashley Cornell, VP of strategic accounts; and Dane Cornell, CEO. (photo: ABC Companies)
The Cornell family has run ABC Companies for three decades. (L to R):  Roman Cornell, chief commercial officer/EVP; Ryhan Cornell account manager; Ashley Cornell, VP of strategic accounts; and Dane Cornell, CEO. (photo: ABC Companies)

WINTER GARDEN, Fla. — ABC Companies executive Roman Cornell can cite plenty of signs his company will be adding more buses after three decades in the U.S. ground transportation market.

The leading sources of future demand for its Van Hool motorcoaches would include retiring Baby Boomers heading out on tours and vacations, including for fall foliage and cruise ships, says the executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

Then their offspring, the Millennials, are taking to motorcoaches like no other previous younger generation. Their desire for convenient, affordable, and hassle-free transportation that — let’s be honest — allows more quality time with smartphones and personal electronic devices even trumps the desire for cars and driver’s licenses for many of them.

PHOTO GALLERY OF ABC COMPANIES FLORIDA FACILITY HERE

Throw in the demand for comfortable commuter motorcoaches, from corporations and public transit systems, as cities deal with declining parking space; demand for regular inter-city line-runs; and a vibrant meetings and convention industry needing more big group transportation — add it all up, and you’ve got a rising client base ready to motivate operators to buy more amenity-filled coaches.

“We’re finding new permanent customers who get into a bus when they thought they never would because of past stigma,” Cornell says. “Then they see it and realize they can stand up and talk, use Wi-Fi, use the bathroom, sit up high and look out big windows, and traffic doesn’t seem so bad anymore. With the amount of entertainment, leather, and amenities, the stigma of riding in a bus is gone, and you find young Millennials through seniors riding on buses, and it’s O.K.”

A Van Hool CX-45 motorcoach (photos: ABC Companies)
A Van Hool CX-45 motorcoach (photos: ABC Companies)
Gaining Share
As the exclusive distributor of the Belgian-built Van Hool motorcoaches in the U.S., ABC Companies marks 30 years of a business partnership rooted in growing, and now enlightening, more travelers about the benefits of big bus transportation. Spanning three generations of family leadership, ABC-Van Hool has brought 11,000 of its coaches to North American roads. As of 2016, it had 32% of the overall motorcoach market, and 55% of the market for buses 40-plus feet.

Van Hool, which manufactures its buses in Belgium and Macedonia with mostly U.S. supplied parts, exports to 85 different countries. The charter and tour and chauffeured luxury transportation sectors comprise about 80% of ABC’s overall business.

“We continue to take a look at how operators can run more efficiently, at a low cost to drive more dollars to their bottom lines,” Cornell says.

ABC Companies and Van Hool underscored that goal in early October when they announced a project with Proterra to develop exclusive electric versions of its CX35 and CX45 motorcoaches, the two models it markets to the luxury transportation industry. The “E” versions will feature Proterra’s E2 battery technology along with a fully-electric drivetrain.

Interior of a CX-45
Interior of a CX-45
Luxury Curb Appeal

ABC Companies is bringing its regular CX35 and CX45 models to LCT-NLA Show East at Harrah’s Atlantic City Nov. 5-7 where it will exhibit on the trade show floor and at the first-ever outdoor motorcoach pavilion. Attendees will be able to see some of the features that Cornell says would appeal to operators specializing in luxury ground transportation.

“First of all the coach needs to be attractive as it arrives at the curb and inviting for the customer to board,” he says.  “And the coach needs to have the amenities that appeal to the limo customer.”

The Van Hool motorcoaches with forward-facing passenger designs offer WiFi and gadget outlets, leather seats, contoured parcel racks, and 22-in. digital TV monitors. “The back end of the vehicle is open and inviting; it’s not closed up back there, not dark and dreary,” he says.

Interiors can be customized for all types of executive and road show formats with conference rooms, sections with sliding glass door partitions for quiet rooms, and a glass roof option.

A Van Hool CX-35 mid-coach.
A Van Hool CX-35 mid-coach.
Family Ties

Such a diversity of details and attributes evolved from a strong partnership that stayed close to its customers and keeps current with market trends.

Before the Cornell and Van Hool families linked up in 1987, ABC Companies was a used bus dealership that would buy equipment from Greyhound or Trailways, refurbish them to a sellable condition, and then resell into the motorcoach market. Van Hool, with a strong European presence, was looking for a distributor who could put its products into the North American market, while ABC wanted to also sell a line of new buses.

“Both companies are family owned businesses, and for both families their net worth and livelihood comes from focusing on the business at hand,” Cornell says. “The two partners and families have a mutual respect for each other with the customer-is-first mentality. We need to make sure our customers are happy for future business.”

Interior of a CX-35.
Interior of a CX-35.
Strategy Points

Cornell outlines a few successful practices learned and earned over three decades that could apply to any luxury transportation company or service business:

Customer Bonds: Van Hool and ABC Companies center on building bonds with a wide range of customers who include charter and tour operations, line run operations, commuter shuttles, universities, and law enforcement/offender agencies. In addition to the CX35 and CX45, it offers TX and TDX motorcoach and double-decker model lines.

“We like to grow with our customers,” Cornell says. “That’s why we have different product ranges. We can sell late model used to an operator and later they can get into a 35 or 45 or double decker as their business grows. We can scale with our customers, from a one bus operation to more than a 1,000 vehicle operation.”

Training: Part of building a lasting relationship with clients is making sure they fully understand and get the best use out of the products. “The quicker and easier the vehicle is adapted into the new company, the more likely they are to add more,” Cornell says.

Once a client has bought a Van Hool, the drivers need to enjoy driving it, so ABC offers training for drivers and mechanics. It also employs service technicians who can work with clients to develop a thorough understanding of bus operations. “We provide operators new to the bus industry with the resources to teach them how to handle that piece of equipment.”  

• Service & Support: One leading attribute of Van Hools is many of the U.S.-made parts are interchangeable between the CX35 and CX45 models. Driver cockpits are identical. Operators can realize significant parts, as well as driver training savings when running both models in their fleets.

ABC also offers special maintenance programs where repair work is included for a period of time, similar to the type of plans that come with BMW vehicles, Cornell says.

“ABC carries a high level of inventory that covers our operators to reduce downtime to a minimum. One area ABC is known for is their excellent part distribution, reasonable pricing, and availability.” Parts personnel are available to handle calls, and parts are displayed in an online store. Service techs can do Facetime consultations with customers.

Headquartered in Faribault, Minn., ABC’s lead facility is a 33-acre lot near Orlando, Fla., where the company receives imported Van Hools from the Port of Brunswick in Georgia and then installs dealer options and performs pre-delivery inspections to ensure quality. It also has a major parts warehouse on site and one in Muncie, Ind.
Other service, parts, and/or sales locations include Jersey City and Camden, N.J.; Grand Prairie, Texas; Costa Mesa, Redwood City, and Newark, CA; and Sombra, Ontario.

“With our parts distribution model, we touch everyone in the U.S. within one to three days,” Cornell says. “We have a network of service providers around the U.S. in addition to our seven traveling technicians and our 24-hour hotline.”

CX MODEL SPECS: For complete specs and details on each of these models, go to www.abc-companies.com/pages/cx_motorcoach

Related Topics: ABC Companies, bus manufacturers, charter and tour, motorcoaches, Roman Cornell, Van Hool

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