His initial Vision for this start up was to provide advanced training for certificated private pilots along historic trails such as the Lewis & Clark.
We named the company and provided the initial logotype and positioning, but then fate intervened and Bill had the opportunity to start a flight school using Cirrus Aircraft, the remarkable personal aircraft with a built-in parachute. He spoke with his old friends at Flightcraft. the major maintenance and fuel supplier for corporate aircraft at PDX, the Portland Airport, which had just landed the contract for factory certified maintenance of all Cirrus aircraft (including the personal jet then in flight tests).
They agreed that he could operate his flight school out of their facility. Very few flight schools operate from major airports. Few use only the top of the line personal aircraft available in their training fleet. That required repositioning, to include a new aircraft outline in the logo and the word's " The Cirrus Experience at PDX." in sort it meant marketing a new brand.
Vision: To become a major Cirrus presence in Portland, Oregon and on the west coast by providing flight training, plus access to rentals, sales, maintenance, charter and affiliated services.
Prospect Viewpoint: Primary candidates were entrepreneurs leading successful companies. They have a history of achievement, lettering in high school and college sports as well as academics. They are not noted for being “team players” and tend to gravitate to positions like quarterback or linebacker in football, point guard in basketball or setter in volleyball that require dynamic adjustment. The constant challenge is invigorating for them. These men and women are calculated risk takers. They assess the risks and try to reduce them to those their skills can handle.
The Niche: The market for initial flight training for a private pilot license in the Portland/SW Washington area was estimated at 40% of all licenses granted in Oregon or approximately 560 per year.
Our target segment for the start up was senior executives, entrepreneurs and professionals that had been successful and were looking for another conquest that has known cachet. Becoming a pilot appeals to their entrepreneurial world view and their need to find ways to demonstrate their ability to plan, act and react.
The local market we had to address was the high end, the men and women for whom just learning to fly is not enough. We knew we must find those who seek exclusivity and are willing to pay for it. Our estimate was approximately 20% of the local market or 112 prospects annually.
These are men and a few women who want to say to friends that they are getting their Pilots license. And no, they aren’t going just anywhere. They actiley loook for a different brand.
We wanted them to tell their friends that they were getting their air time at Wing Ventures out at PDX.
Everything we did in marketing, customer service and direct interactions was intentionally selected to reflect a higher standard than any other flight school in the vicinity and preferably in the world.
The company was repositioned as THE CIRRUS EXPERIENCE AT PDX which, unexpectedly led to contacts from overseas to train men and women in our target market in one, two and three week concentrated bursts.
It also provided a way to open up Bill’s advanced training on trails and
cross-country areas of interest.
The components of Persona were all considered in conjunction with industry standard practices.
Price: We concluded that the standard pricing for flight lessons was unacceptable to our audience. (The pilot in training pays for each lesson, one at a time in 3 components: hourly aircraft rental, fuel used and hourly trainer fee.
We agreed to test package pricing for going from zero hours in the cockpit to a private pilot license and for going from the private license through training to get an instrument rating.
The first time it was offered to a prospect he wrote a check for the full amount and later purchased an aircraft which he leased back to the company to use for training others.
That is Brand power.
Passage: The way you get your start up product or service to customer or client can make a huge difference. To bring someone into flight training there is nothing like a demonstration and a gift that celebrates the experience.
Trust Tools: of course included a web site with a welcoming video from Bill as well as speaking engagements. Exclusive monthly meetings became our best marketing Brand developer because it moved prospects and those early in their flight training from strangers to members of a special community. We called it the first Tuesday Rendezvous. It brought all elements of the pilot support system as well as check pilots, certificated pilots and pilots in training together in a relaxed setting for food, drink and discussion. Regular attendance was 50-plus.
Spin Tools: small companies can’t afford big-time advertising but they can take advantage of PR opportunities when they present themselves.
We learned that the new model Cirrus sans engine, configured to be transported by trailer would be passing through Portland and available for one day. We displayed it in Pioneer Square, the city’s Living Room . We made the morning news because we had tipped the media that the plane would be assembled over night. Thousands of people visited with us. 327 entered our drawing for an Experience flight around Mount Hood. 37 took the flight and 5 became students.
Outcome: The future seemed bright until unforeseeable events began to stack up. Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and though he managed it with diet and exercise it began to take a toll on him.
Flightcraft was purchased by Atlantic and the cachet location at PDX was lost in the shuffle of a corporate changeover. Operations shifted to Aurora. Dips in the business cycle which always hits aviation late and hard did not help cash flow.
Then in 2015 a student put the prop of one plane into the ground on a solo landing and a renter allowed the oil to get too low in another. The cost of two planes was well beyond reserves. Even with good insurance the company could not recover.
It had been a great run for three years moving from an idea to 3 planes, 4 employees, 3 training pilots, and an average of 5 students each month.
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