When W.L. Roenigk Inc. President Susan Roenigk’s father started the company in 1945, he did so with two buses and a contract with the Freeport School District in western Pennsylvania. Today, the company has grown over the past 70 years to become the region’s largest school bus fleet operator, as well as the largest woman-owned business in the Pittsburgh area. The company’s fleet of buses serves 29 school districts throughout western Pennsylvania from 11 locations and with a staff of nearly 900 drivers, mechanics and support staff.
Roenigk says the company’s success over the years has been rooted in the strong principles of her father. In addition to W.L. Roenigk’s updated fleet of vehicles and top-notch employees, she says the company’s heritage as a family owned and operated business has helped it stand out and succeed. As the company gears up for a third generation of family leadership in the near future, Roenigk says the elements that have made her company a success in the past will continue to serve as the foundation for continued success into the future.
As one of eight siblings, Roenigk says she understands the importance of family, and W.L. Roenigk’s status as a second-generation family owned and operated business is one of its greatest and strongest attributes. She says her father and mother were always extremely hands-on with the company, and that attitude has carried over to her and her siblings. Rather than hiding behind a desk, she says, Roenigk and her siblings handle issues for customers directly and without delay. “When anybody has a problem, it doesn’t just go to the garage,” she says. “The phone calls will come straight to the main office.”
The company’s closely held nature also serves W.L. Roenigk well when dealing with employees. Roenigk says the company has withstood the shortage of available drivers better than many of its competitors because the family atmosphere within the company has helped it recruit and retain more of the best drivers. “We treat the drivers like they are part of our family, and that I think makes a difference,” she says, noting that W.L. Roenigk has many drivers who have been with the company for 30 or even 40 years.
Because the company has family ownership, Roenigk adds, W.L. Roenigk takes greater pride in its accomplishments and puts more effort into serving its customers than other companies. “The fact that our name is on the sides of all these vehicles is the main difference,” she says. “When it’s our name, it has a different feel to it.”
The family nature of W.L. Roenigk is a significant differentiator for the company, but it is far from the only advantage it brings to the marketplace. Roenigk says the company takes pride in having the most up-to-date fleet in the region, and it is always working on keeping its vehicles in the newest and most effective condition.
Roenigk says the company is in the process of replacing many of its existing vehicles with new models from manufacturers Thomas Built Buses and IC. On the smaller side, the company also is replacing many of its vans for special-needs students and parochial schools. Roenigk says the company is looking forward to receiving its new fleet of Transit vans from Ford, which are taking the place of the discontinued Econoline models.
One current trend sweeping the bus industry is the switch from diesel fuel to propane or natural gas engines. Many fleet operators are making the change to save money and improve their environmental footprint. Roenigk says the company has experimented with natural gas buses, but despite the fact that western Pennsylvania is a major natural gas-producing region, the infrastructure for fueling vehicles with it is still relatively small. “That has not trickled down to the local stations where you can fuel yet,” Roenigk says. “That’s something we’ll be looking more into in the future.”
Looking into the future, Roenigk says the company hopes to continue following the example of her brother Billy, who recently passed away. She says he was responsible for much of the company’s growth over the last several years, and the company is working on opening discussions with several new districts. “Billy would go out and get them, and the rest of us would figure out how to make it work for us,” she says.
With a third generation of family leadership on the way in the form of Roenigk’s nieces and nephews, W.L. Roenigk is well-positioned to remain at the forefront for a long time to come.