Building on Success

Nov. 8, 1999

Building on Success

By Ralph Hood

Novembe / December 1999

Just a few years back, general aviation bemoaned the apparently inevitable death of flight training. Schools of long standing cut back or got out of the business. (I know one school that pickled its trainers.) There seemed to be no light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

But the industry fought back with various revitalization efforts. And, hallelujah, the U.S. economy prospered. Lo and behold, we now have students again.

Many wonder what turned the tide. I think it was a (rare) case of the industry working together during a good economy — and thank goodness.

In any event, you might expect all God's flight training chillun to be happy. Alas, nowadays I hear a totally different lament from flight schools: There just aren't enough CFIs. I even hear people saying it might be time for us to back off on marketing. The very idea horrifies me.

But it might be time to add a new direction to our marketing and change tactics to recognize the paradigm shift. (I've never been totally sure what a paradigm is, but I do know they are always shifting.)

Let's keep those students flying, and let's encourage them to bring in their friends. The friend of a current student is easily worth several people who respond to an ad.

In my own little business (two people and a part-time dog), we hardly ever market to "cold" prospects anymore. We did at first, but today almost all of our business comes from old customers or referred leads from old customers. It's a more pleasant life.

This is one area where CFIs can shine, and make their own lives more pleasant at the same time. Referred customers and repeat customers are more profitable and more fun.

* * *

Finally got a speaking gig in Europe, for the Interline Sales and Marketing Conference (ISMC). That's the folks who negotiate the agreements by which airlines work with each other worldwide.

Geraldo Arinio of Air Europa spoke to us about the difference between marketing to a businessperson (the person who owns the business) and the typical business traveler (the person who travels for the business). He pointed out that there are a lot more of the latter. I never had looked at it that way, but obviously Herb Kelleher of Southwest has.

* * *

Also in October was AOPA's 1999 EXPO. It was held in Atlantic City and, as Shakespeare put it, "Thereby hangs a tale." I can think of a zillion reasons why AOPA would not meet in Atlantic City. In the first place, AOPA is involved in a ten-year dispute with Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan, who wants to close Bader Field; AOPA wants it left open.

Atlantic City is Vegas minus the strip plus an attitude. So why do they meet there? Because it works. AOPA met in Atlantic City four years ago and drew a record-breaking crowd. They returned this year and broke all records again (1,465 aircraft; almost 10,000 attendees).

So, what does this prove? Meetings should be held where the membership wants to go. It surely works for AOPA.