April 17, 2014

Kansas Truck Equipment provides products that make people more mobile

When Maurice Linnens bought Kansas Truck Equipment Co. in 1999, the company showed customers its offerings of mobility products through a brochure.

When Maurice Linnens bought Kansas Truck Equipment Co. in 1999, the company showed customers its offerings of mobility products through a brochure.

That wasn’t ideal, said Linnens, the company’s president.

So in 2008, the company opened a 10,000-square-foot interactive showroom to display and demonstrate equipment that helps people with disabilities.

That includes vans equipped with turning automotive seats, vehicle lifts, hand controls, wheelchair tie-down systems and other transportation-related equipment.

It was one of the earliest showrooms of its kind in this region, Linnens said.

Of its three divisions, its mobility equipment division is the fastest growing.

“We are living longer, and we are surviving strokes and other things that we didn’t use to survive,” Linnens said. “But sometimes when we survive those things, we end up with some sort of disability that we didn’t have before the event. That, coupled with the war and injuries there, it’s a growing demographic.”

His company provides products that make life easier and people more mobile.

“The most satisfying thing about it is to see an individual’s eyes light up when you’re able to help them gain – or you’re able to restore – some mobility and some independence,” Linnens said.

“You make such a difference in an individual’s life,” he said.

Kansas Truck, at 1521 S. Tyler Road, was formed in 1959 by brothers-in-law Sterling (Bob) Friedman and Robert Gelman.

They began “upfitting” medium-duty trucks with equipment such as grain beds, flat beds and utility bodies primarily for the agricultural industry.

In 1962, it became a distributor of Bluebird Body Co. buses.

Linnens, along with some silent partners, bought the company in 1999. It’s a family business.

His wife, Rita, is director of marketing. The couple’s oldest son, Brian, is its school and commercial bus sales manager.

The company employs 23.

Before buying the business, Maurice Linnens spent 27 years in the banking industry in commercial and industrial lending.

In 1996, he went to work for Thorn Americas in Wichita, but was laid off when the company sold to Renters Choice in 1998.

For years, Linnens had wanted to own a business. Part of his job in banking was to loan money and help businesses, he said.

“I gave a lot of advice on how businesses ought to be run,” he said. “I thought it was time for me to walk my talk.”

The company focuses first on safety.

“When our techs work on school buses, they want that bus safe, and they want that bus right because they know children are on that bus,” Maurice Linnens said.

In fact, the Linnens’ grandchildren will be riding buses supplied by Kansas Truck to school in Andale next year.

“It’s real personal,” Rita Linnens said.

The company offers free training seminars every other year for mechanics around the state who work on the buses.

“This is a pretty rural state,” Maurice Linnens said. When a bus needs work, it’s sometimes difficult to bring it in to Wichita.

“We do that to try to add value to the relationships we have with these districts,” he said. “If their mechanics are well trained, they can perform more of the routine kinds of repairs in their own shop as opposed to bringing the bus to Wichita to our shop for the repair.”

“In a sense, we shoot ourselves in the foot,” he said. “But we understand that time is money, and distance is money. If we can equip them to do their own thing in their shop, that’s a value added for the consumer. In the end, everybody wins.”

Kansas Truck is also known for its truck equipment division.

It worked with Cessna Aircraft and Bombardier to design specially equipped service trucks to repair airplanes out in the field.

With the trucks, mechanics can perform repairs remotely. With the service trucks, they can even pull a jet engine off of a Citation and replace it, Rita Linnens said.

“It’s been a great partnership,” she said. “To know you did this and it’s going all over the world is a real feather.”

Each year, Kansas Truck offers what it calls a “Mobility Rodeo.”

It invites equipment manufacturers to bring out the latest products. And it brings in representatives from the agencies and organizations who work with those with physical disabilities.

Another strength of the company is the long tenure and expertise of its staff.

It made the difference in deciding whether to buy the company in the first place, Maurice Linnens said.

“I didn’t know anything about buses or trucks,” he said. “I own a pair of pliers, but that’s about it.”

Its truck and mobility mechanics are certified by their respective professional associations.

“Those things say that we’re willing to invest in people and in resources to ensure that the work that we turn out is of the highest quality,” he said.

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