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Crestline Coach Ltd.: Built on Innovation and Durability
Crestline Coach Ltd. (Crestline) is just as passionate about its ambulances as it is its employees. Three Saskatchewan entrepreneurs equipped with personal experience as emergency medical responders founded Crestline in their quest to prove they could build an even better ambulance. Crestline is now one of North America’s most respected ambulance/specialty vehicle manufacturers and bus distributors. The company is staffed with an ambitious team of 130 professionals who continue to push the boundaries of effective, responsible and efficient production.
What started out as three buddies in a garage building ambulances from scratch has since relocated to a brand new, state-of-the-art production facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Crestline now manufactures its own array of ambulances and specialty vehicles for sale across Canada, the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia. The company employs a team of in-house engineers who design every part of the ambulance aside from the chassis, which Crestline purchases from leading suppliers on a per-order basis, enabling clients to choose from hybrid, diesel and conventionally powered options from leading manufacturers such as Mercedes, Ford and General Motors.
Crestline also sells transit, tour, shuttle and wheelchair accessible buses manufactured in the United States to clients across Canada. In addition, Crestline offers medical equipment and supplies for the emergency medical services industry.
“The vast majority of Crestline’s business is with customers in a wide range of provinces, states and countries,” says Daryl Bitz, president and CEO of Crestline.
Crestline currently maintains a network of dealers in the U.S and Switzerland, and continues to further expand the market into eastern Canada and the United States. U.S. sales soared to over $5 million in 2012, earning Crestline the Saskatchewan ABEX Award for Exports.
“There isn’t a lot of consistency across our clients as every region operates its ambulance services differently,” explains Bitz. Crestline sells to privately and publicly operated ambulance services, but the variation across states and provinces means that every Crestline clients has different needs. Some private ambulance operations may purchase new ambulances only every few years but renovate the interiors more often. The additional products mean Crestline can outfit a customer with one fuel-efficient, diesel-powered multipatient emergency response vehicle or upgrade all the stretchers in a fleet of 600 city-owned ambulances.
Its product selection may have expanded, but Crestline's innovative spirit has never wavered. Crestline was the first ambulance manufacturer to do away with upholstery seams in its ambulances. The company developed reflective decals for ambulance exteriors in 1986 and it was the only Canadian ambulance manufacture to be honored with Ford’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier award, which Ford launched to standardize design and manufacturing criteria across Canadian and U.S. ambulance manufacturers.
Crestline was the first to design an aerodynamic ambulance, the O2 to Go System, and was also an early adopter of patent air ride systems, safety nets, and high-visibility graphics. Crestline was also one of the first ambulance manufacturers in Canada to develop emergency support buses, neonatal transport vehicles and mobile health buses.
Leading in Innovation
Over the years Crestline has managed to snag the 1998 and 2011 Saskatchewan ABEX Award for Growth in International Exports, the 2010 ABEX Award in Health & Innovation and the honor of being named one of Saskatchewan’s Top 20 Employers in 2009.
“The crown jewel of all our accomplishments though was being named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies in 2011,” beams Bitz. “The award touches on so many things that we’re proud of. Most of all, we’re proud to have a team of professionals who have gone above and beyond to understand our market and the client’s needs, while still managing to be creative, innovative and produce a world-class product.”
The company launched Crestcoat Technology in 2006, which proved to be yet another game changer for the ambulance industry. Crestline’s team of in-house engineers developed equipment to apply a powder coat finish to the exterior of its vehicles. Powder coating is not innovative in and of itself, but the technology has not yet been successfully developed at a large enough scale for something like ambulance exteriors until Crestline Crestcoat technology.
The technology now imparts vehicles with the same exterior finish as traditional automotive paints, but because the application is finished with a high temperature trip through an oven, production can resume as soon as the part is cool enough to handle. The technology also offers superior corrosion protection, leading Crestline to offer the only 100-percent lifetime paint warranty.
“Crestcoat was a real win-win for us,” expands Bitz. “The paint lasts longer, thereby extending the life of the vehicle, and our paint-related warranty claims have all but disappeared.”
The Crestcoat equipment has recently been relocated into Crestline new 80,400-square foot headquarters that the Crestline team also designed and engineered with in-house professionals. “We laid out the new facility to minimize movement and maximize our output,” says Bitz. “but it still had to be big enough to fit the sizes of ambulances we manufacture.” The new facility also includes offices, a showroom for the ambulance supplies Crestline offers, and a vehicle delivery area similar to those found in conventional car dealerships.
The new facility also includes staples from past manufacturing plants, including a signature vertical storage system the Crestline team developed over a decade ago. “It’s a testament to our team that they were able to identify the need to maximize our vertical storage space so early on,” expresses Bitz. The team essentially built vertical storage racks to store materials like aluminum sheets, Plexiglas and wood among others, but storing things overhead also presents workplace safety issues.
The Crestline team purchased a scissor lift from a nearby airport and equipped it with an automated, computer-controlled system capable of finding the desired item and delivering it safely to ground level, where the Crestline team can then use an overhead crane to move it through production effortlessly.
Bucking the Trend
True to its nature Crestline shirked convention and posted record sales in both 2010 and 2011, while many North American businesses were struggling to minimize losses. The team is now comfortably settled into its new facility and Bitz expects the company to continue the upward trend.
“When I moved into this role a few years ago I wanted to change the profile of the company,” says Bitz. “Part of that was making sure our customers, employees and suppliers are aware that we are a quality organization with the best people, but the other part is being able to make sure our employees know how much we have been able to achieve together.” Crestline will hold a grand-opening celebration in honor of the completion of its new headquarters. Crestline will also move swiftly to plan celebrations for the company’s 40-year anniversary in 2015.
Crestline's new facility will be able to manufacture five vehicles daily when running at full capacity, which Bitz expects to need within the next two to three years. “We’re not done yet,” asserts Bitz. “I don’t want to sit around and play golf all day. I want to have some fun and play golf, but I also want to grow and create a successful business environment for our employees.”
Crestline has produced over 7,000 vehicles to date and the new manufacturing facility ensures that the company will be able and capable of meeting its clients’ future needs. Crestline is already recognized as one of Canada’s preeminent vehicle manufacturers and the team’s drive to innovate will also help Crestline Coach Ltd. deliver the highest-quality emergency vehicles possible to emergency service providers around the world.