The New Brands
Almost 12 years ago, this column reported that consumers were beginning to buy based more on price and less on brand. Business Week was cited ("…brand loyalty is eroding as shoppers become more price minded."), as was Who's Who economist Dr. Hugh Macaulay ("we still buy names we trust, but those are now the names of retailers, rather than brands").For once, it seems we got it right. (Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then.) The August 11, 2003, issue of Fortune magazine has a long article on exactly this subject, saying that "store" brands are gaining on "name" brands big time. Fortune cites many reasons, high among them the fact that retailers have themselves become the trusted name in the purchasing process, thus putting retailers in a stronger market position. Interestingly, that started years ago in aviation. Most pilots taxi to the (perceived) best FBO on the field, rather than to the FBO with a particular brand of gas, and FBO retailers have more clout with aircraft buyers than do aircraft manufacturers. When retailer Hal Shevers started Sporty's by selling radios out of the trunk of his car, the big names in aviation were Cessna, Piper, and Beech. All three of those airframe manufacturers have different owners today, but Sporty's motors on with the original ownership. The oldest general aviation firm in the country is not a manufacturer but a retailer, Cutter Aviation. A trip to Oshkosh for EAA's AirVenture makes it obvious that traditional name brand aircraft no longer own the industry. Upstart manufacturers of kits and completed aircraft offer a myriad of airframes, and that's great. Lancair, for one, has made a big impact in the marketplace, and more power to them. For many people, perhaps the biggest news at OSH was the plethora of aircraft designed to qualify as light sport aircraft. The feds have not yet legalized the sport pilot certificate, but the rush is on to get qualifying aircraft on the market. Even Mooney has one planned. The market does indeed react to what buyers want, and light sport aircraft and sport pilots could be like Viagra - nobody knew the market was there until the product was available. I ate breakfast with Bob Albrecht at OSH. He's the TSA director of general aviation operations, and it was wonderful to learn that the man actually has a broad general aviation background. He has run a large FBO, for one thing, so I doubt he is going to be terrified lest a C-150 is going to bomb the White House. The best improvement at OSH? The little bottles of handwash/disinfectant lotion near the portable toilets. The best act? Still Sean Tucker. By far the wildest act, announced by a refugee from professional wrestling, was a jet-powered Waco racing a jet-powered truck. You just had to laugh out loud at that one. Oshkosh - there's still no place like it.