Vehicles

Hometown Trolley Taps Into Vintage Vehicle Demand

Martin Romjue
Posted on April 16, 2018

President & CEO Kristina Pence-Dunow on the floor of the Hometown Trolley production plant in Crandon, Wisc.
President & CEO Kristina Pence-Dunow on the floor of the Hometown Trolley production plant in Crandon, Wisc.
Hometown Trolley knows an important rule of business in the age of constant change and disruption: Tradition always retains its appeal.

The company’s signature product, its nostalgic streetcar replica called the Villager, has emerged as a favorite among wedding and special events clients, prompting luxury transportation providers to invest in them. The Villager was on display last month at the International LCT Show, and at LCT Show East in November 2017.

The trolleys, built on medium duty strip chassis, are decked out with turn-of-the-20th century style features and accents, giving a traditional ambiance to a wedding. Brides often like to have their photos taken on the rear balcony, which resembles the caboose of a train.

“We’ve been doing trolleys since the early 1970s,” Pence-Dunow says. “Trolleys started out in historical areas for private tours. In the last three years, they have really gotten popular with the limousine industry.”

Tripled Interest

Hometown Trolley, a third-generation, family business that is woman owned, has tripled in size, going from an annual production volume of about 50 vehicles to 120-140 units per year. The trolleys are built at the company plant and headquarters in Crandon, Wisc.

The factory team and employees celebrate completion of a new trolley.
The factory team and employees celebrate completion of a new trolley.
With plans to add a line of mini-coaches, Hometown projects a volume of 250 units within a few years. It’s now the largest trolley manufacturer after acquiring Supreme Trolley of Elkhart, Ind., in 2016. Supreme built about 40-50 trolleys per year and had used Specialty Vehicles of Las Vegas, Nev., as the distributor.

As with limo and party buses, trolleys can be customized with various color schemes, seating floor plans, and vintage-style interiors, along with the usual creature comfort and entertainment amenities.

“The brides are attracted to that vintage look with woodworking and brass, going along with the church,” Pence-Dunow says. “Bridal parties love to get up into the rear porch area for photo ops.”

The most popular Trolley model in Hometown’s lineup is its original, the Villager, the first model it built in the 1970s. It has been adapted to many types of versions for tours, wineries, and mass transit because of its flexibility to accommodate various seating capacities and styles. Among the Villager versions, the white trolley with spiral brass, darker wood interior, and white bead board ceilings tend to be most popular among operators.

Hometown Trolley President and CEO Kristina Pence-Dunow belongs to a small business roundtable that has met with President Trump at the White House. She was joined at one session by her husband, Joey Dunow.
Hometown Trolley President and CEO Kristina Pence-Dunow belongs to a small business roundtable that has met with President Trump at the White House. She was joined at one session by her husband, Joey Dunow.
“The seating can be changed up, whether oak or mahogany, or a limo interior; it’s very versatile,” she says.

The company uses Freightliner and Ford chassis to construct the trolley models. They typically come in black or white but can be any custom color the customer chooses. Its price range suits the rate cards of most retail operations to help balance overhead costs, bridal client budgets, and a decent profit.

“You can really dress them up with bar and sound systems, and software-driven crazy lighting such as programmed LED lights,” Pence-Dunow says. A bridal party wearing purple dresses could appreciate the purple interior lighting, for example. “Just because it’s a vintage trolley doesn’t meant it’s not up to date with all the features they expect in stretch limousines.”

Looking at the overall trolley market, Hometown’s customers break down as 50-60% transit agency customers; 30% weddings and limo-type events operators; and the rest private tour companies, such as for wineries, ghost tours, and themed trips.

Fast Facts

Location: Crandon, Wisconsin
Product Founded: 1974 by Bruce Pence
Owners: Pence-Dunow family
Products: Villager, Carriage, and transit trolleys; 18-45 passenger minicoaches
Annual production: About 140 units per year
Plant: 38,000 sq.ft.
Annual revenues: N/A
Employees: 60
Key managers: Kristina Pence-Dunow, President/CEO; Joey Dunow, chief engineer and technical support; Dustin Pence, production manager; Jessica Pence, marketing manager; Kevin Bocek, replacement parts; Jesse Lewis, warranty.
Key clients: Chauffeured transportation services; public transit agencies; private touring companies
Certifications: DBE/WBE
Website: https://hometown-mfg.com

Historic Appeal

Among transit customers, Hometown reports ridership increases when an agency converts from buses to trolleys, especially in oceanfront and historic districts. Some of those customers prefer Hometown’s smaller light duty trolley, called the Carriage, which can carry 14-18 passengers.

Hometown Trolleys can be customized based on various historical and vintage themes, such as this elegant chandeliered parlor ambiance.
Hometown Trolleys can be customized based on various historical and vintage themes, such as this elegant chandeliered parlor ambiance.
“Trolleys are a more inviting, fun experience,” Pence-Dunow says, citing a 2007 case study in Virginia Beach, Va., where ridership dropped 30% when Hampton Roads Transit replaced trolleys with buses. After acquiring 14 streetcar-style Hometown trolleys seven years later, ridership went back up by the same amount. Similar trends were observed in Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M.

Hometown Trolley was founded in 1974 in Illinois by Bruce Pence, who developed and started the Villager model. Kristina Pence-Dunow and her late husband took over the business in 1993, and gradually expanded and branded the trolley division from a production of 12 per year to more than 100. She married Joey Dunow, who works as chief engineer and technical support, and they have been joined by their two children, with son Dustin Pence serving as production manager and daughter Jessica Pence as marketing manager.

“We changed and made the trolley better every year as industry technology improved and customer demand increased,” Pence-Dunow says. “My husband is good at listening to customers in the field about getting the latest in amenities, driver, and mechanic friendly features.”

The Villager trolley model has enjoyed a boomlet among wedding clients in the last three years as young brides discover the traditional themes of vintage vehicles able to transport larger wedding groups than a stretch limousine.
The Villager trolley model has enjoyed a boomlet among wedding clients in the last three years as young brides discover the traditional themes of vintage vehicles able to transport larger wedding groups than a stretch limousine.
New Coach Line

Hometown has developed its first modern tour buses which have passed tests and certifications. Marketed under the Hometown Coach division, the company has received its first order of 36 units from a national park in the Northeast. “Our trolley in the limo market can be adapted to a modern bus built on a Ford or Freightliner chassis,” Pence-Dunow says. 

The 18-45 passenger mini-coach interiors include USB ports at all seats, motorcoach-style seating, a sound system, upgraded coach type seats, and a modernized front end. “This model can be very versatile like the Villager model and used as a tour bus.”

Lest anyone think vintage-style trolleys only appeal to Americans, Hometown has found a growing clientele in Ireland, Dubai, South Korea, and Equador as it embarks on an export-based project. 

As a women-owned WBED certified company, the only woman-owned Transit Vehicle Manufacturer (TVM) in the U.S. today, Hometown last year was awarded the 2017 Small Business Person of the Year for Wisconsin.

Pence-Dunow has visited the White House three times as part of a small business roundtable that meets with President Trump, and on Feb. 12 participated in a SBA client showcase with 14 other companies at the Rayburn Congressional Office Building. The showcase informs Senators and Representatives about companies succeeding with SBA loans.

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Related Topics: bridal parties, coachbuilders, family businesses, industry vendors, LCT exhibitors, retail markets, special events, specialized tours, Trolleys, vintage vehicles, weddings

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