Dallas Broz was on a party bus in 2004 when he saw his future.
"I thought it was a great concept, but I wanted to do something a little different with it," he said. "It was hot. I didn’t like the color of it. It was an old school bus, so all of us were bumping our heads."
Broz wanted to take the party bus concept upscale – make it resemble a rolling nightclub with reliable air conditioning and plenty of headroom. Today, his Party Express Bus company runs seven buses and one trolley in Wichita and has expanded to five other cities as well.
That’s pretty fast growth but not surprising to Broz, 32, who has considered himself an entrepreneur for nearly as long as he can remember. One of his early ventures as a teenager was buying used cars, fixing them up and reselling them.
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“It wasn’t the amount of money to me, it was just being successful," he said.
Broz was working in customer relations for Cessna Aircraft and studying for a business administration degree at Southwestern College when his fateful ride on a party bus took place. He spent about a year researching buses, discovering there were plenty of cheap used ones on the market thanks to cities replacing their fleets. Eventually, he decided to buy only Gillig buses, the same line used by the city of Wichita’s transportation system.
While the buses can often be bought for a few thousand dollars, Broz said, it takes a lot more to get them ready for business.
“It seems like we always have $30,000 to $50,000 in them," he said.
That includes installing side-facing seats, party lights and a "crazy" stereo system, having them painted, completely overhauled and licensed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Broz’s Wichita operation includes six black buses with names like Challenger and Bismarck – "I just dream ’em up," Broz said – and one hot-pink number called The Barbie.
Broz employs about a dozen drivers, mostly school bus drivers, delivery men or other people who already have their commercial driver’s license.
Broz has also sold the Party Express Bus concept to operators in five other cities – Tulsa; Springfield, Mo.; Omaha; Kansas City; and Oklahoma City. The operators are a mix of friends and acquaintances such as Jason Bayless. Broz was attending Bayless’ bachelor party when he latched onto the party bus idea, and Bayless now owns the Tulsa fleet.
"We basically sell the idea," Broz said. "They get a presence on our website, and we build the buses for them."
He’d like to expand into Dallas and St. Louis, too.
Although Broz doesn’t drive a bus anymore himself, he’s involved in every other aspect of the business, coming in to wash and refuel the vehicles, helping remodel the buses and marketing his enterprise through a variety of channels.
"I do everything, which is what I like doing," he said. "I like to switch gears."
His big markets are birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and groups wanting a ride to the casino in Mulvane or concerts at Intrust Bank Arena and other local venues. His drivers worked from noon to the wee hours of the morning ferrying St. Patrick’s Day revelers last weekend. One of his fastest-growing customer segments is birthday parties for kids. His single busiest period is fast approaching – high school prom season.
Rates start at $125 an hour, and the company offers a number of packages and specials.
The buses are designed to be party places themselves, not just a means of transportation. Passengers 21 and older can bring their own liquor along, an incentive in these days of stepped-up DUI enforcement.
"It’s a lot of fun on the bus," Broz said. "Then you get to the place safely, and while you’re on the bus, the drinks are cheap."