PPP loans helped Peoria Charter Coach survive the COVID-19 pandemic
In 1941, William Winkler’s grandfather began Peoria Charter Coach thanks to a loan he received from his sister, who made money selling eggs.
There is now a painted mural in the offices of Peoria Charter Coach that features Winkler’s grandfather, grandmother, the company’s first coach and, of course, two chickens. It was a symbol of the sister-to-brother loan that started the business.
In 2020, Winkler’s business was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. No one traveling, Peoria Charter Coach suffered a 71% loss in sales, sales fell $ 11.3 million, and the company laid off 90% of its employees. The situation seemed dire.
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Winkler just wanted to see the company started by his grandfather turn 80. The business needed money to survive. It was at this point, perhaps as fate would have it, that Winkler received a loan from his sister which helped the business to survive.
Today, Peoria Charter Coach can see a light at the end of the tunnel. Sales are on the rise, travelers are coming back. But the road the company took through the pandemic is one that will stay with Winkler for the rest of his life.
‘I’m not lucky I’m blessed’
Winkler keeps a list of key dates in the pandemic that changed his world. The first date is March 16, 2020, when it laid off 90% of its staff – the majority of whom were bus drivers. The second date is March 21, 2020, the day Illinois Governor JB Pritzker announced the statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses.
March 22, 2020 was the first day Peoria Charter Coach made no sales and the first day of a long and arduous survival journey.
“COVID-19 has been the worst thing that has happened to my business,” Winkler said. “Until people felt comfortable indoors, in groups for long periods of time, my company was over. It was over.
“The vaccine was a game changer. Without the vaccine we wouldn’t be open today,” Winkler said.
Winkler points out five things that have helped his company, which offers charter bus travel throughout Illinois and the United States, weather the COVID-19 pandemic:
1.) Faith in God. 2.) Know the numbers. 3.) Know your resources. 4.) Building on its banks. 5.) Hope for government help.
He says his faith gave him no fear of the virus. So he immersed himself in research into COVID-19 and his business finances, desperate to find a way to save his family business.
Winkler produced two huge stacks of paper. One of the piles was his business finances. Producing these papers was the easy part for Winkler, who has his CPA license. The other, and the larger of the two piles, was all of the research he did on COVID-19. The CPA, who runs a charter coach company, was now also trying to wear the epidemiologist’s hat.
“Since I wasn’t afraid of dying, I could do my research and think about how I might get back into business,” Winkler said. “I have to make sure that with COVID-19 I got it all, because it stopped me.”
Help eventually found Winkler in the form of government aid, which he believes to be a blessing.
“I’m out of luck, I’m blessed,” Winkler said. “He is a great, good, and living God.”
The money that saved the business
At the start of his business crisis, Winkler was able to invest $ 800,000 of his own money to keep the business afloat, pay bills and daily operating expenses. Then he received loans from his sister, parents and in-laws who gave Peoria Charter Coach just over $ 1 million to operate.
Winkler’s sister, Jill Wilbanks, who remembers playing with her brother as a child in the company’s offices and the bus garage, said it was an easy decision to give him a loan to help l ‘business.
“My husband Carl and I were just ready to help in any way we could,” Wilbanks said. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault and we were all in the same boat, I could tell. When we can help, we want to help.”
Winkler called his sister and explained the financial situation to her and detailed a plan that he said could help the company through the tough times if he got loans from his family.
“We knew he would pay it back if he could and when he could we knew we could trust him,” Wilbanks said. “I didn’t hesitate twice, saying ‘If we have it and we can help you, we will help you.’ I wonder if my grandfather’s sister felt the same. “
The banks also gave Winkler a break and allowed him to forgo payments from his coaches for a year, an allowance he said was crucial to success.
“My employees stayed with me … until the end”
April 15, 2020 is the third date Winkler has saved – this is the day he received his first Paycheck Protection Program loan from $ 1.2 million. In total, Peoria Charter Coach received $ 2.4 million in PPP loans, according to state database. The CERTS Act has also provided Peoria Charter Coach with another $ 2 million in public aid, according to its database.
Illinois granted thousands of PPP loans to businesses during the pandemic, including 398 in Peoria after the federal government pledged $ 953 billion for the program in March 2020.
Winkler rehired all of the employees he laid off with the first installment of PPP money he received and tried to find any kind of work for them to do while travel was still not an option. .
“My employees stayed with me, stayed with me until the end,” Winkler said. “I fired them and they came back.”
The PPP’s first cash round did not last forever, however, and on July 15, 2020, the employees had to be laid off again. Winkler couldn’t bring himself to do it and even talking about it over a year later, he becomes emotional.
He asked his vice president to inform the employees that they were being made redundant again. That day, Winkler decided to go to an outside vending machine for a Dr Pepper, not realizing that the vice president had gathered all the employees outside near the machine to inform them of their second dismissal. Then something unexpected happened.
“I just stepped out and all of my employees are starting to clap,” Winkler said. “They said ‘thank you Bill, thank you’. Have you ever been acclaimed for firing someone?”
Two days later, July 17, is the next date Winkler has recorded. It was a day he said he realized he was blessed, a day he said it couldn’t happen to anyone else.
On July 17, U.S. Representative Darin LaHood R-Peoria tabled the CERTS Act, which raised $ 2 billion for the transportation industry. That same day, Winkler got a call from East Peoria Mayor John Kahl.
“Do you want to meet Senator Dick Durbin? Kahl asked. ” He’s there. Would you like to tell him your story?
Durbin called Winkler on his cell phone later that day and said, “We’re going to do our best to get you some money.”
CERTS money recently found its way to Winkler to the tune of $ 2 million, and another $ 500,000 is still expected. Money will only be able to make up for about half of her current losses, but nonetheless, Peoria Charter Coach sees a light at the end of a very long and very dark tunnel.
To look forward
Things are starting to improve again for Peoria Charter Coach. It manages 37 of its 48 coaches and actively tries to hire employees rather than fire them.
Winkler’s September estimates show that the company is expected to achieve 60-70% of its sales before the September 2019 pandemic, not perfect but it could be enough to return to positive cash flow, Winkler said.
He strongly believes that masking and COVID-19 vaccinations should be a personal choice, but on his company’s scheduled trips, drivers wear masks and are vaccinated.
Otherwise, he leaves it to the charter group leader to determine how the trip should unfold. If the guests want a masked and vaccinated driver, he will provide it to them. Winkler, however, draws the line on the government mandating these things.
Through it all though, the economic crises, the lives lost, the nationwide battles for masks and vaccines, Winkler is grateful. He is grateful that Peoria Charter Coach is still operational and above all grateful that it can see its 80th year of existence.
“Am I worried? I don’t know if I worried,” Wilbanks said. “Did I pray about it?… Yes I did, a lot. A lot of looking to God and trusting him that it was all in his hands because there was so much that did. weren’t in Bill’s hands or ours. “
On September 23, Winkler and his wife Cindy – the person he says helped him get through it all – will accompany a charter trip to Branson, Missouri, to celebrate not only 80 years in business this year, but also a celebration of success the darkest hour of business.