Huskey Trailways turns challenges into advantages

Sometimes the best opportunities are right where we are now. For Huskey Trailways, 2019 was a traumatic year. Kent Huskey, who co-founded the Festus, Missouri charter bus company, died at the age of 55 after routine back surgery. His wife Julie Huskey, who started the business with him in 1996 working side by side, then faced managing the business through COVID-19 lock downs in 2020. Today, driver shortages and increases in fuel costs are among the company’s concerns. Yet through it all, Julie Huskey, who runs the business with her with daughters Katie Brunner and Mollie Pruneau, approaches obstacles with optimism and persistence, finding solutions as she has done since Huskey’s start.

A Trailways member since 2008, Huskey appreciates the long-standing name recognition, networking camaraderie and road support the affiliation brings to her business. “Trailways members think the same way and hold to a higher standard of customer service,” she says.

Those standards, business strategies, and Huskey Trailways dedicated employees, are the reasons Huskey Trailways is enjoying a much-needed, busy spring season. “The first half of 2022 has been really good. Everything is moving,” reports Huskey. “Schools are calling with big trips for band and sports competitions and preferring motor coaches rather than school buses.” But that doesn’t mean business is back to pre-COVID levels. “We are about 60 percent of the way there.” Tours are picking up. Huskey’s April bookings include week long trips to Washington D.C., Florida, Nashville and Branson, among many other local places they travel to in Missouri. The company also provided military transport all through COVID and continues to bid on new contracts.

Huskey shares insights on what’s keeping her fleet rolling:

Never underestimate the power of first impressions

Newer, good-looking motorcoaches, sparkling clean interiors and neatly dressed, personable drivers are Huskey’s rules of the road. “Appearance is everything,” says Huskey. “Our fleet averages around 6-years old or newer. Our vehicles are disinfected daily and smell fresh and clean for our passengers.” Huskey also states, “We are always on the search for more friendly and professional motorcoach operators to join our growing team.”

Office interactions are just as important. “We respond to customer inquiries the same day. I can’t stress that enough,” she adds. “Millennials are beginning to run things and they don’t wait. They want to book charter business quickly or they’ll move on to another (company’s) quote regardless of the price.”

Never stop thinking out of the box

After spending thousands of dollars on help-wanted ads for drivers on Facebook®, newspapers and other media outlets without results, Huskey decided to give Kelly Anderson Impact Solutions a try. Specialists in driver recruitment for the transportation industry, Kelly Anderson takes charge of advertising, finds and pre-screens candidates. Huskey met their representative at UMA EXPO in Long Beach, CA. “We’ve just hired two new drivers they sent our way,” says Huskey. “It costs nearly the same as our ad budget. There are no guarantees, but the firm sent us qualified candidates who were a good fit for us.” Huskey said the female applicant previously drove school buses and wants to switch to driving motor coaches. The other candidate lost his job at a much larger motor coach carrier during COVID and wants to return to driving part-time. Huskey training mandates for drivers include hands-on instruction plus online learning via Trailways new driver training modules and programs offered through MCI Academy as well as other industry suppliers.

Huskey gave its motor coach drivers, who are paid by the day, a significant increase this year. Motorcoach drivers also get a per diem for overnight stays. Huskey offers all employees (who stay beyond 90 days) a simple IRA and three percent match along with supplemental insurance at a self-pay, group rate. Full-time drivers are also eligible for partial pay health insurance.

Manage fleet size and fuel costs with an eye on the future

Half of Huskey’s 50-vehicle fleet include large 56, 40, and 24 passenger motor coaches. COVID caused a pause in Huskey’s ongoing fleet renewal strategy. So today, Huskey is looking to replace older coaches with brand new models to better serve their customer’s needs.

Fortunately for Huskey, the company added a fuel surcharge to its contracts to combat the 2008 financial crisis when the price of crude oil rose. The clause allows the company to add an adjustable percentage increase if fuel rises above $3.50 a gallon. Huskey has also increased rates. “Our customers understand the economic situation and have no problem with our charges,” says Huskey, who sees the acceptance as a good sign for the industry. “Some customers want us to calculate the fuel surcharge another way, but even still we are finally charging what we should have always been paid.”

With the passing of her husband, Huskey’s daughter Mollie, who also worked side by side with her dad, stepped right into his role, managing operations, sales and marketing, and equipment purchasing. Daughter Katie, a former Kindergarten teacher, stepped into the company full-time in 2020 and applies her talents to HR and compliance. Huskey now holds Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Certification. “The certification has allowed us to capitalize on more opportunities, and it took a great deal of effort to become certified. I’m proud that we have it,” she adds.

Huskey and her daughters also own a few other businesses including an online fashion boutique and a vinyl graphics company, which kept them busy during COVID. With six grandchildren and parents to care for, Huskey extends the same kind of protection to customers and colleagues. “We think of everyone as family in our business and treat them that way,” she adds.


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