Peoria Charter Coach has brought joy, value and the best in quality service to travelers throughout central Illinois.
Three generations. Sixty-nine years of service. Sixty-one motorcoaches. Five hundred thousand yearly passengers. When it comes to success in business, numbers can speak volumes. At Peoria Charter Coach (PCC), located at 2600 N.E. Adams Street in Peoria and 2008 North Federal Drive in Urbana, courteous drivers, preventative maintenance, high safety ratings and experienced staff combine to create award-winning service. Under family direction, a reputation for reliability and steady growth has transformed Peoria Charter Coach into one of the most-trusted charter coach bus businesses in the Midwest.
Starting Small…and Growing
What do you get when you combine a simple trade, a lot of hard work and a little bit of faith? The largest motorcoach operation in downstate Illinois. The Peoria Charter Coach business venture began in 1941 when Walter Winkler traded in the family car and received a loan from his sister to buy a new bus.
“There was gas rationing during the 1940s,” says Bill Winkler, owner and president of Peoria Charter Coach. “My grandfather saw this as an opportunity to transport Caterpillar workers from the Spring Bay area to a new plant in Peoria.”
Walter traveled two and three times a day back and forth from Spring Bay, a town between East Peoria and Lacon. During the post-war period, the demand for charters increased, and Winkler expanded the business with a number of additional buses. Bill says the majority of growth has occurred after 1990. “In 1990, we had 29 coaches. Today, we have 61.”
The family business has been one of steady growth in fleet size as well as the number of people employed. “Bill’s always said: ‘If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” says his wife, Cindy. “Growth is always a potential.”
The years following 1970 brought about a number of changes at Peoria Charter Coach. Walter’s sons, Stanley and Roger, became the second generation to run the family business in 1979 after Walter decided to step down. When Stanley retired in 1990, Roger—Bill’s father—purchased his interest in the business. Roger and his wife, Velda, wasted no time grooming their son, William (Bill), to take over the company. Bill has a picture of himself washing a school bus at the tender age of two! But the decision to join his father in business was not easy.
“I had other options in terms of a career,” he says. “I worked in Peoria during the summers until I graduated from Florida Southern College with an accounting degree. After working in Florida for seven years as an internal auditor at a family-owned food wholesale company, my father asked me to join the business.”
Bill was hesitant at first. “Things were going really well for me [in Florida], but my passion was the bus business and my goal is to keep making it better year after year.”
He moved back to Peoria in 1990 and rejoined Peoria Charter Coach. A certified public accountant, Bill worked in the family business as a comptroller, and Cindy served as the company’s marketing director while raising their two children, Sarah and Jacob. Bill and Cindy became third-generation owners in 1999, and now serve as president and vice president, respectively.
The company president says he is right where he belongs. “I really believe that what I’m doing right now—running this business—is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Moving with a Mission
Integrity. Fairness. Respect. Love of God, family and employees. Three generations have upheld the Peoria Charter Coach family mission successfully. Bill says the Winkler family strives to promote honesty in all things, rewards for hard work, and respect for one another—first as persons, then as employees.
“We believe a good name is more desirable than great riches,” says Bill, quoting Proverbs 22:1. “Our Christian faith is very important to us. God’s grace has helped get us where we are today.”
Bill says he and Cindy consider every member of their staff a part of the Winkler family. “You can’t run a business yourself. The people are what set this company apart. Another motorcoach company can copy everything we do. But they can’t copy the people who work for us.”
The business’ management team provides a solid foundation for company fruition, according to Bill. “We never close. We’re a 24/7, 365-day-a-year business. We have a strong management team that handles our after-hour events and has an excellent reputation for handling problems. All of our employees are dependable, responsible and have been with us for many years.”
Although the staff at Peoria Charter Coach keeps the company shining, the faithfulness of Peoria residents has bolstered the company’s reputation. Bill says despite Peoria’s small-town feel—in comparison to Chicago where PCC receives a bulk of customers—his family has always been proud to bear the Peoria name.
“A big reason for our growth is that we are able to find quality people from the Tri-County Area who stay with us a long time. People have said to us: ‘Why don’t you change the name of your company so that it’s not so small-town?’ But we’ve always taken seriously the name of Peoria. We’ve taken a lot of pride in taking the name of Peoria all across the states.”
Serving with Pride
The Winkler family takes pride in its services, which include the PCC Charter Department, tours and four round trips to Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports every day of the year. The company provides transport for school trips; sporting events; retirement clubs; conventions; church, civic and fraternal events; and senior citizen outings within an environment of comfort, convenience and security. Charter coach buses are equipped with the finest amenities including a continental breakfast, reclining seats, climate control, reading lights, footrests, panoramic windows, DVDs, cordless microphones and restrooms, to name a few. Eleven coaches are handicap ADA accessible.
Peoria Charter Coach began offering group tours in the 1970s. PCC buses travel to Canada and to every one of the 50 states except Hawaii. Upcoming tours include trips to the Rocky Mountains; the Amish acres of Shipshewana, Indiana; the Great New England Escape; Branson, Missouri; and West Virginia.
“Our staff can plan a one-day trip, a multi-day trip or an international tour,” says Cindy. “We take care of the meals, the hotel and the attractions. In a year, our 61 coaches will travel four million miles.”
Bill says working with family can be a complex routine with ups and downs, but the staff and the employees make every day worth it. “It’s a blurred line between work and home. You can’t lock the door and go home. But you can make a difference in people’s lives, and you can achieve the best in life together.”
For more information on Peoria Charter Coach, visit peoriacharter.com or call 1-800-448-0572. For coach reservations, call 1-800-448-0572 ext. 129 or 127. iBi
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