Looking for some great deals on parts, accessories, and pilot supplies? When planning your trip to one of the large conventions, such as AOPA Aviation Summit, to take in the seminars and workshops, make sure to allocate a few hours to touring the exhibit floor. With products ranging from small replacement parts to state-of-the-art avionics, it’s not only a convenient one-stop shop, but the deep discounts offered make it especially appealing.
Like most flight school managers, you’ll surely hone in on those products that will save you money or grow your business. While exhibitors usually send their best reps to display and demo their products, they are all competing for your dollars. With all this pressure, how do you successfully walk away with the deal of the century without ending up with buyer’s remorse for choosing the wrong product?
Whether you’re trying to stick with your budget or budgeting your time, planning ahead is your best option for achieving your goals. If you devise a specific punch list of products that you need to review or purchase, you can easily map out which booths to make a beeline for first, and which ones warrant allocating more time spent with the rep.
Here are a few pointers to avoid the pitfalls and help you make wise, educated decisions based on your flight school’s particular needs:
- Map it—Print out the exhibitor list and map prior to your trip to help you plan ahead. If you are attending the AOPA Aviation Summit this year, you can download the information. Other shows, such as Sun ‘n Fun, may have a free iPad application to help navigate the grounds as well.
- Organize—Take a letter-sized file with separators, labeled with the products on your punch list. Fill each item’s section with the brochures, spec sheets, and special convention pricing flyers. This will help you later to compare, review, and share the information with technical advisors, such as your mechanic.
- Make friends—Chat with the rep and exchange cards. After you leave their booth, immediately jot down personal notes on the back of their card to refresh your memory for later conversations with them, such as what they fly, where they’re from, and some things you share in common. Not only does this build your social network for business referrals, but alliances with suppliers can be vital for building business credit and getting the inside scoop on deals.
- Go digital—Whip out your Smartphone or digital camera and record demos to help you compare, review, and share later.
- Negotiate—Use your negotiation skills with the rep to get them to extend special convention pricing until you can get a determination from you’re A&P or owner. Most reps will honor the price later rather than lose a sale, but if they won’t, chances are they aren’t in a position to make the commitment. In that case ask for a supervisor. Make sure any extensions granted are noted and signed by the rep on your convention pricing flyer. And don’t forget about the flea market areas. You’ll be amazed at the deals.
- Bring a wingman—If making a major purchase, take your A&P. This could save you hours of trying to sort through confusing technical jargon, enable you to take immediate advantage of special pricing, and free up your time to make the most of your trip. After explaining your budget, an A&P will be in a better position to match products with the specs of your particular aircraft. If you cannot take one with you, show him your punch list and interview him for a list of questions he would be asking.
- Snag freebies—You should never have to buy pens or pencils for the flight school again. Make time to visit NOAA and the great folks at the FAA booth. Don’t be shy about taking as many gadgets, charts, maps, and teaching materials as they allow. If you want more, just ask—they will take your information and send it to you for free. After all, aren’t they there to help?
- Make a wish—If your school’s budget just simply cannot support the cost at the present time, but you know that a product is perfect for your needs, tack the item’s brochure on a “Wish Board” so everyone knows to keep their eye out for one at a deal. Keep a close watch on the product’s website, and when the company announces the newer model of that product be ready to swoop in to grab the older model at clearance pricing.