THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO 'ROUND AND 'ROUND

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO 'ROUND AND 'ROUND

From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

The Wheels on the Bus
Go ’Round and ’Round

High expectations are the key to everything.

Henry Ford

At Hemphill Brothers Coach Company, we know buses. As part of our family’s gospel group, The Hemphills, the two of us have logged over 2 million miles on buses. We have been bumped, bruised and scraped by the sharp corners and edges of cabinets and equipment on those buses. We have waited patiently and not so patiently on the side of the road when a bus broke down, and we have inhaled noxious diesel fumes as we rolled down the highway. We have sweltered in the heat when the air conditioner blew anything but cold air, and one of us has peeled his face off of a frozen bus window when the heating system proved to be inadequate in frigid Canadian weather! In addition, by the time we were teenagers, we boys were not simply bus passengers, but we were also intimately familiar with washing, servicing and refurbishing buses because we worked at our father’s coach leasing business. We have forty years experience with buses, and in our world, you cannot spell “business” without that one special word—bus.

Though tour buses were a natural part of our livelihood, Dad did not knowingly intend to become a pioneer in the bus industry. His was already an active and often hectic life; not only was he an active minister, but he was also a songwriter and the senior member of The Hemphills. And when it came to buses, keeping our group’s 1962 Flexible on the road was his greatest concern. Then, in 1974, a haphazard chain of events occurred that included purchasing a bus from a financially strapped singing group and refurbishing it, selling it for a profit, having it stolen while the check was merrily bouncing and then repossessing the bus in accordance with a judge’s orders once it was located. When all was said and done, Dad inadvertently found himself in the bus leasing business, and we soon discovered that we had new jobs in addition to our musical endeavors.

For several years, Dad added to his fleet of buses and drivers, and during that time, the two of us became involved in the coach business. Though we had no formal training, we were very enthusiastic and spent hours washing, designing and providing the labor to make those designs become reality. After all, we knew from personal experience what a tour bus needed. While our enthusiasm blossomed over the years, Dad’s waned. In 1980, he decided that he had had his fill of bus leasing and made the decision to sell the shop.

Joel and I were twenty and twenty-one years old at the time. Though we were not experienced enough to drive buses, we were old enough to become business partners and start our own coach company. It was a natural transition. After all, we had always shared a room and had learned early on that by combining our wealth and talents, we could accomplish more! It was that frame of mind that allowed us to buy our first stereo together, to purchase our first car together, and now to start our own business together.

Dad helped our jump into entrepreneurship by cosigning on a $50,000 loan and loaning us an additional $500. He even sold us two of his buses—two 1965 Eagles—that he had been unable to sell. After we started our business, we continued to tour with The Hemphills, singing at night and running our coach company from hotel rooms around the country by day. We were young, eager to succeed and had nothing to lose.

From those meager beginnings, our company has grown from two buses and a backyard shop into eighty coaches and a 28,000-square-foot office complex on ten acres outside of Nashville, Tennessee. A 15,000-square-foot addition is in the final stages of completion. When we sold our first bus, it went for $35,000, an astronomical amount of money to us at the time. Now, it is not uncommon for one of our coaches to sell for a million dollars or more.

We never know who is going to wander into our shop or who may be on the other end of the line when the telephone rings. It could be Air Force One or the White House with a request from the president for buses that will need to be equipped in a manner that allows them to serve as rolling White Houses, or it may be a big-name entertainer requesting a coach equipped with a tanning bed, Steinway piano or a secured baby crib. It could be a major television executive who needs a fleet of buses equipped with the latest in technology in order to travel the country filming the stories that we all watch on daily newscasts. And we have learned from experience that when Ed McMahon calls us, we have not won the multimillion-dollar sweepstakes. Even Ed needs a bus now and then! Our coaches are designed with amenities and features that rival those available at any five-star hotel, allowing those on the road the comforts of home.

As brothers and business partners, we started out with absolutely nothing. Over a period of twenty-five years, we have built a company that is firmly rooted in Christian values and ethics. These principles have enabled us to be a stable source in an often-unstable industry. Even when all we had at our disposal was older equipment, we were able to compete because of our unwavering commitment to service and loyalty. We are also deeply rooted in family, which extends beyond those family members with whom we share genetic makeup; our employees are our extended family, and they are all as committed to the Hemphill Brothers Coach Company as we are. Each is loyal, trustworthy and proud of the product he or she helps to create.

Our journey to success has not always been a smooth ride. It was difficult for us to gain respect when we were younger, and situations sometimes forced us to survive through financially and emotionally difficult times. We have learned not to force things, that indeed, there is a natural rhythm that beckons us to follow, and that by putting our heads together and sharing opinions, big decisions can be made more easily. Our business is like a moving bus. It has momentum and is moving in the right direction. We are simply here to pave the way and let those wheels keep turning ’round.

Trent Hemphill and Joel Hemphill Jr.
As told to Terri Duncan

EPILOGUE: Hemphill Brothers Coach Company is located in Nashville, Tennessee. Trent and Joel Hemphill believe in exceeding the expectations of their clients, and their client list is a who’s who of entertainers, actors, political figures and athletes. A Hemphill Brother’s coach is a custom-built rolling hotel suite.

In addition to customizing buses, Hemphill Brothers Coach Company also leases buses. They can provide one for a weekend or forty for a national tour. Their drivers are among the best in the business and make safety a top priority. Trent and Joel consider their drivers to be a key element to their company’s success.

Over the years, Trent and Joel have established many strong, long-term relationships. With honesty and integrity as well as innovative ideas, they have established the industry standard not only in design but also in service. For more information, visit their Web site at www.hemphillbrothers.com.

Terri Duncan

More stories from our partners