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Chances are they taught you kids how to drive

15 minutes with Doug and Sara Kisseberth

15 minutes with Drive Time Driving, BCE Edition

One of the longest relationships in the Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs (BCE) network is with Drive Time Driving Instruction, LLC, owned by Doug and Sara Kisseberth of Jenera. We recently asked Doug and Sara to reflect on the growth of their business and what they’ve learned during their entrepreneurial career. Watch the video interview attached.

Q. Drive Time Driving Instruction celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2020. When did you first think about creating this business?

Doug: This all started on Dec. 21, 2009. We had a situation where I was working for another driving school and the opportunity fell through. I came home and Sara said “I want the same experience you had when coaching football. Let’s start a driving school.” And I said, “You’re an idiot.” [Both laugh.] “Starting from zero?” And she said, “Yeah we can do this.” And now we’re doing over 500 kids a year between Findlay and Bluffton.

Sara: In fact, this year, it was 11 years since we had our first class, so pretty exciting.

Q. Has your approach to teaching the essentials of driving changed in that time?

Sara: The essentials of how we teach has always been pretty consistent. We focus on the “why.” We don’t just tell students “You need to slow down for those railroad tracks.” They hear the story: why you need to look with your own eyes to see that there’s no train coming. And that’s really stayed the same. What’s changed is the technology, the presentation of that information.

Doug: For example, PowerPoints, Zooms, simulators. We have a simulator in our office in Findlay; it is a trial program that the state is using that we have been part of. And kids can come in and see how they’ve changed from before they started driving with us until they finish and see what kind of progress they have made in the areas they are looking for.

Q. Tell us a little about your locations and range of classes.

Sara: Our primary focus is really Allen and Hancock County, but we have pulled students from a six county area. We have students from Putnam County, Wood, Seneca, Wyandotte. You know, they need us, we help them.  

Doug: This year, we’ve actually driven students from Toledo, Cincinnati and Mt. Gilead, where they couldn’t get in for at least four months with a school in their area and they called us. And we were able to work them in within about a month’s time. Which in our industry, that’s pretty good.

Sara: Now, typically we’ll go pick up the students, but we didn’t go to Cincinnati or Mt. Gilead. We have an instructor whose parents live in Cincinnati. The other two met us in the middle.

Doug: We’ve expanded some of the classes that we’re offering. We’re one of the few schools in northwest Ohio that offer JDIP or Juvenile Driver Improvement Program. That’s for students who’ve had at least two tickets or had something come up in the juvenile courts. Sara handles that for us. We also have an abbreviated adult program.I think we’re one of only two schools in northwest Ohio that offer that.  

Q. Have you found ways to help families fit driving instruction into busy schedules?

Doug: This, from day one, has been our calling card. Our target market is those kids who are too busy to take driver’s ed. We want the athletes, show choir, band, FFA, 4-H. We want the rural kids. That’s our target market. And we know they’re busy. We both grew up on the farm doing all those other things. Our son also went through it and that’s why we offer some of the classes we have. 

We have a Sunday-only class through the school year. We offer a “Get-er Done” class after football season: one week because those guys usually have only one week between football and basketball or wrestling. We also do that in the summer. And then we also have a flex class during the school year, where on the first day they students set their own schedule over the next two weeks.

Sara: Now, we know we’re not going to meet everybody’s schedule. And so, if somebody has to miss a day, we make it easy for them to make up. We teach the same curriculum on each day, so Day 1 is always the basics, Day 2 is always being physically fit to drive. So if they miss Day 2 with their class, they can make up Day 2 with another group.

Q. Do parents take the lead when it comes to scheduling classes? What are some of the most common questions that you answer?

Sara: We really work with the students. They are taking on a very adult role. They are learning to operate this one ton bullet. And so, they need to be able to handle their schedules. So we work more with the students than with the parents. And sometimes that’s kind of hard with the parents, but that’s why we do it. They’re young adults.

Doug: Parents also sometimes bring in another layer of confusion. Because now you have a three way, triangle discussion. The question most often asked is “how soon can you get in the car?” Right now [April 2021], we’re in a very good position, only a month to six weeks out. Whereas a lot of schools are four months, from what we’re hearing. Other questions are always costs. 

This time of year we run into what we call the “summer tsunami.” Everyone comes in and wants to get it done NOW instead of getting stuff done ahead of time. They want to come to class this week and they want to drive next week. Well, the cars aren’t just sitting here doing nothing. 

People have to be patient and for the most part, coming out of COVID, we’ve really been impressed with how patient they’ve been.

Q. What is your favorite part of the business?

Doug: Our favorite part of the business.... When they come in, everyone is afraid of doing cones. They all think it’s going to be hard. When I started out sixteen years ago, the first company I was with, I asked them how they did cones and they said, oh, you’ll figure it out. 

Well, I had kids flopping around like fish on a dock. I came up with a way of doing this that is very mechanical. We do cones all three days. There are some schools that wait until the last half hour of the last day. But you get them in the car and in the first 20 minutes you work on cones and they say “is that all there is to it?” That “aha!” moment, that ain’t so hard. We also make all our kids parallel park.

Sara watched me coach midget football, didn’t realize why I did it. Then she went to a football game and eight of my guys were standing around and she said, “now I understand why you do it.” And now she has the opportunity to have those relationships. A lot of kids see us walking down the street and come up, “Hey, I remember when you drove me.” It’s the aha moments and relationships, that’s why we do it.

Sara: What I like about teaching... We’ve had classes here in Bluffton when nobody knew each other. Nobody was from the same school. They’re scared of each other. By the end of the week, they’re best buds. And that’s fun to watch that connection made. 

Doug: Sometimes you even get a driving school romance!

Sara: There’s one going right now! [Laughs]

Sara: Another question that people ask: “I see your cones, can I use your cones?” We set those cones out for our students so they can practice. They’re really not for anybody to come and use. We have our system and our students don’t run over our cones. They’re not cheap, so... and it sounds like we’re being mean, but they’re really for our students.

Q. How do you like working together? 

Doug: It presents challenges and rewards. Sometimes we’re both in the office and we want to use the same software or I’m working on one thing and she’s working on something else and we ask each other a question and the other one says “Why? Why would you do that now?” and at that point, I usually have to go mow the yard.

What we’ve learned is what happens in the office has to stay in the office. We’ve got to leave it in the office instead of bringing it home.

Sara: But the nice thing about it is having a common project. To be able to work together, that has been fun. To enjoy each other’s company. We just can’t work in the office together! [Laughs]

Q. Do you have advice for other family businesses on work-life balance?

Sara: Summer is easier for us for work-life balance. During the school year we really don’t have much of a balance because the students can only drive at night. And so by the time I get done with my day job, get to Drive Time, you know you’re getting home at 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 at night. Now, during the summer, [Doug] can drive more during the day and that gives us more freedom in the evening.

That and we are new grandparents as of seven months ago. And so we take Thursdays off and that is our Peyton day. We babysit on Thursdays. That has forced us to have our work-life balance.

Doug: That’s almost our Sabbath. We have one to three classes going on Sundays. We both take the day off. That’s our getaway.

Q. Where are your locations?

Sara: Our main office is in Findlay, but we do have a classroom here in Bluffton to make it convenient. We’re located on N. Main St., right across from the China Wok, 546 N. Main St. And you can go online to drivetimedriving.com and on that website we have all the information about when the classes are coming up. You can register for class right online. I’ll email you back and then I’ll give a call right before we start class. 

Doug: Our office is at 2469 S. Main in Findlay, which is down there with Dollar General and China Rose. Somehow we’re always near the Chinese restaurants. And that’s where all the business is conducted. All we do here in Bluffton is classroom. People think we’re always in the office, but we’re not.

It’s been good developing a relationship with the [Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs] program. We’ve been in it 11 years, starting out at our other location. It’s been good to work with [the BCE] and I think it’s a good program for new businesses. 

And I congratulate Bluffton for reaching out.... We wanted to move locations and had a tough time. Bluffton is hot. And there’s a reason it’s hot. It’s because the people in this town, they all work together. And it’s hard to find good locations in this town because of that. 

So, when we started out, BCE was a good help for us. We used the [Diamond Manufacturing location] for 10 years and then we were able to find this location and turn it into our own. But it’s been a good location for eleven years.

Sarah: Thank you to everyone. It’s been fun to talk with you. Even if you don’t need driver’s ed, come check out our website, drivetimedriving.com. Thank you!

Suggest an entrepreneur for our series: email [email protected].

The Bluffton Center for Entrepreneurs serves emerging and growing businesses in Allen, Hancock, Hardin, and Putnam counties by providing networking, mentoring, and education services.

For more information: blufftonentrepreneurs.com, [email protected], (567) 525-6667.

15 Minutes with Drive Time Driving Instruction, BCE Edition