The New Chain in Town: Trajen has kept a low profile building an FBO network; now comes the big push

The New Chain In Town

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

Trajen has kept a low profile building an FBO network; now comes the big push HAYWARD, CA - In 1992, Trajen CEO John W. Clanton, 41, a certified public accountant by trade, entered the aviation services arena with a fueling contract at the Alameda Naval Air Station in California. Other government services contracts followed before Trajen opened its first fixed base operation at the retired Mather AFB in Sacramento. The Trajen FBO network has continued to expand, albeit quietly, and today has 14 locations along with seven military contracts. With a critical mass now established, Clanton reports that the time has come to begin a marketing push to give the Trajen name a much higher profile. At the same time, acquisitions remain a high priority.

Greg Briggs Gary Briggs is charged with developing properties in the Trajen FBO chain.

In line with the new emphasis on marketing, Clanton has brought on board a full time marketing person and a national advertising campaign is being kicked off in industry trade publications. At the same time, direct mail and personal sales contacts will increase, says Clanton, as the Trajen chain works at becoming more visible to corporate aircraft users.

Says Clanton, "We've really just kicked off the marketing effort. Our target was February 1st, to coincide with the Super Bowl and the fact that we have the Houston [Bush Intercon-tinental] facility."

The acquisition of the Houston facility, the former Qualitron Aero, a well-known fixed based operation within the industry, is indicative of the quiet acquisition approach Clanton preferred in the late 1990s, a time which he describes as a "sellers' market" in the FBO business.

The market has settled down, says Clanton, which makes growth through buyouts still an attractive option. At one time, he relates, he had considered building a chain by buying one; however, single FBO acquisitions are today the most likely scenario, he says.

"There had been some hype built into the market," says Clanton, "but it's probably at an equilibrium today. Fair prices are being paid."

In particular, he says, the Eastern and Southwestern portions of the U.S. are key targets at present as the Trajen chain seeks to create a more nationwide presence. There are no plans currently to expand beyond the U.S. borders, according to Clanton.

He adds, "Geography doesn't play as big a role as do the basic business practices of a location. From the beginning, our company has managed remote locations." Central to the company's philosophy is a consistent level of management and service training that brings about a consistent level of service at each of its locations, he says.

- Gustavus (GST)
- Juneau (JNU)
- Ketchikan (KTN)
- Sitka (SIT)

- Tucson (TUS)

- Hayward (HWD)
- Sacramento (MHR)

- Greeley (GXY)

- Austin (AUS)
- Fort Worth (FTW)
- Houston (IAH)
- San Antonio (SKF)

- Stafford (RMN)

- Casper (CPR)

Comments Gary Briggs, who is charged with helping develop FBO locations after acquisition and who is based at the Hayward location, "We look at a lot more potential opportunities than we ever get interested in giving quotes on. Each situation is unique; it's not like looking at a chain of Blockbuster video stores where they're all similar."

Trjen's fixed base operation Trajen's fixed base operation at Hayward, CA, south of San Francisco recently unveiled its 60,000-square foot state of the art corporate hangar complex. Trajen officials point to upgrades at Hayward, Houston Bush Intercontinental, and Tucson International Airport as indicative of the service standard they will be offering corporate customers. Trajen Flight Support currently has 14 FBO locations in the U.S., along with seven military contracts. Trajen's corporate headquarters is located in Bryan, TX. Trajen's fixed base operations

What's In a Name
Clanton relates that the unusual name for the company, Trajen, was inspired by history. He explains: "The company's name is rooted in a deep admiration for the leadership model of the Roman emperor Trajen [also spelled Trajan]. An organized, efficient, and effective leader, Trajen inspired his people to great service. He was known for his drive, dignity, and determination."

He adds that, under Trajen's reign, the Roman Empire underwent its greatest expansion, a fact that should not be lost on his FBO competitors and the host of investment groups that have been actively exploring getting into the FBO arena in recent years.

Fueling, Properties Focus
Following the trend of many fixed base operations in recent times, Trajen is primarily interested in being a property manager/developer and providing fueling and other line services. While four of its FBOs provide maintenance, Trajen is not overly interested in acquiring FBOs with large maintenance or avionics divisions, although Clanton is quick to point out that those would not be a deal-killer. He is not particularly interested in getting into charter or aircraft management, he says, and would likely offer to have the seller retain those services should an acquisition be completed.

The Airport Relationship
According to Briggs, one factor that can be a deal-killer is a bad relationship with the airport's governing authority or an airport that does not appreciate the role of the FBO to the community. Having grown up in the FBO business and operated FBOs across the U.S., Briggs has had plenty of exposure to airport-FBO relationships. He was general manager of the Hayward Flightcraft FBO when Clanton acquired it in 2000, leading to his staying on with Trajen.

Says Briggs, "My role is to use my background in leasing and to develop airport property at locations all around the country.

"We think it's very important, both in FBO development and property development, to have a positive, cooperative relationship with an authority that supports business development, and that will allow the FBO to be profitable while also benefitting the airport. That, as opposed to a situation where the airport authority doesn't really care if you're there or not, or if you're successful or not. If your goals are tied together, with a long-term investment that benefits everybody, you'll like the outcome. If that mutual interest isn't there it's hard to get things done."

Briggs points to the changes in Trajen's Hayward FBO, which recently opened a 60,000-square foot corporate hangar complex.

"We started with the city's master planning process," he recalls. "The city had looked to put t-hangars on that site and had invited me to join the master planning committee. I was able to convince the city that we could put corporate hangars on the site and that the city and the FBO could work together to attract a different type of customer, which would provide growth opportunities for the FBO while also enhancing revenues for the city over the long haul.

"I can tell you that we've been successful at Hayward because we've been able to get the airport management to share our vision. We see the same positive attitude, notably, at Tucson and Austin, where we have property to develop."