New Year’s Eve is a busy night for Party Express Bus company in Wichita.
Owner Dallas Broz has had to turn business away.
Still, “I don’t jack up the prices on the buses for New Year’s Eve,” Broz said.
With New Year’s Eve falling on a Monday night, the extra business will be a bonus, however.
“It falls on our off night,” he said.
Some customers want to go to the Mulvane casino, others to local bars and restaurants.
Some will drink champagne at midnight on the bus, rather than spend a lot of money elsewhere, he said.
Broz, 33, opened the business in 2006 with one bus.
He now operates seven buses and a trolley in Wichita.
Broz has also brought the concept to operators in five other locations — Omaha; Kansas City; Springfield, Mo.; Tulsa; and Oklahoma City. Combined, they operate 35 buses.
Broz does most of the work of taking the buses upscale to save labor costs.
He strips them down and removes the factory seats, sidewalls and flooring. Then he adds new wheels, tires and paint. Inside, he runs electrical wiring, adds new side-facing seats, mirrors, lighting and upscale stereo systems.
The investment is from $40,000 to $50,000 for each bus.
Bus rates for groups that want to ride start at $125 an hour. The buses accommodate from 10 to 40 people. Each carries a fun name, such as the Maverick, Challenger, Presidente or Bismarck.
The majority of his business is from birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weddings and corporate events.
Party Express Bus offers a variety of packages, such as Christmas light tours, which were up this year, Broz said.
“I thought last year was the peak of what I could do, but this year we did even more,” with 180 tours, he said.
New Year’s Eve isn’t the easiest night to get drivers, he said.
“I have to have the drivers all lined up months in advance,” he said. “I’ll sometimes pay them a bonus for driving on New Year’s Eve.”
He was working at Cessna Aircraft when he started doing research on buses and the party bus business.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have a 3-year-old daughter, Dawsyn.
So what happens on New Year’s Eve?
Most of my customers are repeat customers. … That translates into loyalty the rest of the year. A couple of them are going to the casino. A couple downtown to different bars. … It’s pretty much like any other Saturday night. We’re happy to suggest a tour. We found that most of our customers want to go where they want to go. Eighty to 90 percent is rolling with the punches. … A lot of the bars are charging $20 just to get in. Sometimes they just decide to do their champagne at midnight on the bus.
You mentioned that you have repeat customers who get babysitters, go out, but don’t want to drink and drive.
They just don’t want to get a DUI. It can ruin their credit, their career and things like that. Nobody wants to drink and drive anymore.
Customers have compared riding on the party bus to time travel. How so?
It’s like being inside a club, but it’s moving. You’ll be … traveling for 30 minutes, but everyone will say it seems like it’s been two minutes because it was so much fun. … You just have so much fun in between stops, then boom, the night just flies by.
You have a mix of ages. How do you handle them?
If we have a 21st birthday, we have a rule that everybody has to be 21 if you want to have alcohol. If half the party is 21 and half are under 21, no alcohol. (And no alcohol for under-21 events.)
Of all your markets, you said Wichita is the most competitive. How so?
If you look at buses per capita, Wichita is probably the most (competitive) in the entire country. I don’t know how it got that way. So our prices are really low. And that makes the buses more popular in general because the prices are so low. Dallas and Denver are probably at the maturity level of Wichita five years ago.
Are you looking to expand into other markets?
There are other cities on the radar. But right now we’re really trying to capitalize on the ones we’ve got. Each new city has a set of challenges (such as getting management and drivers in place). It’s probably two or three years before one of these cities is even profitable. … I probably didn’t see any profit for three or four years.
What do you like best about the business?
I enjoy working on the buses and building them. I enjoy how I get to do everything. I like how I get to do every aspect of business. My favorite thing is building a new bus because I get to use creativity, design. I draw everything out.
Which group is the craziest?
Bachelor parties. It’s a bunch of guys, and when the guys get together, they form a pack … like they get louder and just rowdier. They might wrestle around with each other, stuff like that. Bachelorette parties are really well behaved. … Some of the toys some of the bachelorette parties bring are pretty funny, or the bachelor parties — same thing.
OK. Does anyone ever vomit inside your buses?
It happens periodically. I’d say the early 20-somethings are more likely to do something like that. It’s either their first time on a party bus, or at that age, it’s like a drinking competition. But (it doesn’t happen) that often. … Typically, people on a bus have some disposable income so they’re less likely to engage in bad behavior.