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BUS REPORT Summer 2011

Working Together To Create A Culture Of Training

With a customer satisfaction rating of 95 percent, two-time Thomas Built Buses Dealer of the Year, Kerlin Bus Sales & Leasing, Inc., credits much of its success to its commitment to training.

Thomas Built Buses shares Kerlin's commitment to training, and that contributes to a mutually-rewarding relationship. Kerlin employees attend Thomas' annual four-day Train the Trainer program, and then return to the shop to train other dealership employees and their customers. At the same time, a beneficial feedback loop is created with everyone passing questions and feedback to Thomas Built so Thomas can incorporate those real-life experiences back into their training and their products.

Thomas' Train the Trainer program, a company hallmark since 1998, mirrors the program developed in the 1980s by its parent company, Daimler Trucks North America. The intent of the training is to move the educational resource as close to the customers as possible. Thomas' training power is then multiplied by every dealer trainer that is a part of the program—giving customers around the country local access to expert trainers, hands-on experiences and current information. Kerlin is a model of how effective that approach can be.

Kerlin Bus Sales and Leasing was founded by Ed Kerlin in Silver Lake, Indiana, in 1962. The company has sold school buses—only Thomas Built buses—since the day it started.

Kerlin has offered its own two-day training seminars each year since 1986. "It's just like Thomas' Train the Trainer program," says Clifford Zehr, president of Kerlin Bus and son-in-law of the founder, "with breakout sessions on engines and transmissions, and 'look-up' sessions on parts and wiring diagrams." Kerlin brings in specialists from Thomas Built Buses, Cummins, Allison and Mercedes-Benz and 30 to 70 people attend each session.

Zehr recognizes the value of training customers and making them part of the service team. "The seminars help us encourage customers to call us when they've got a problem," he says. "Because of the frequent training seminars, they know we are here for them, and they feel more comfortable calling and asking questions."

At a recent session, service manager, John Rhoades created the wiring of a working C2 bus on a board, with functional modules. They use the board to test other modules and to help customers learn how to resolve problems.

Dwayne Vandiver, fleet maintenance supervisor, Noblesville School District, Hamilton County, Noblesville, Indiana, is one of those customers. With 9,000 students and 112 buses, Vandiver needs to keep his buses on the road, and he credits Kerlin's "awesome training" with helping him do that. "Even if you can afford to send just one person to the training," says Vandiver, "it's well worth doing, just for the handouts. That one person can share the information with the rest of the shop, and it helps create a culture of training."

That's a culture shared by Thomas Built, its dealers and customers like Noblesville School District.

The Train the Trainer program gives Thomas Built customers around the country local access to expert trainers, hands-on experiences and current information.

The Train the Trainer program gives Thomas Built customers around the country local access to expert trainers, hands-on experiences and current information.

Kerlin's C2 wiring board was created for its training program. It is used year-round to help customers resolve problems.

Kerlin's C2 wiring board was created for its training program. It is used year-round to help customers resolve problems.