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An Apple a day keeps the red ink awayAn Apple a day keeps the red ink away

When Apple launched the iPad last spring, tech journalists panned it as a joke. Yet today more than 25 million of the tablets have been sold, meaning that an average of one in 10 people in this country has one.

The iPad is a great product, to be sure. But it isn’t exactly revolutionary. It’s a tablet computer that doesn’t even run Flash. Apple has succeeded not because it has the perfect line of gear. They’ve done it because of proper marketing, the right image, strict product control, and a group of loyal repeat customers, each of which is applicable to the flight training industry.

A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the incredible success of Apple’s retail stores. The paper detailed complex training for entry-level positions, an employee handbook with scenario-based discussions, a store layout that was planned to exacting detail, areas for kids to play while adults shopped, and more. Everything is thought out, and every detail is considered important to the company’s success.

The lessons for flight schools are clear. Just because Apple is selling computers and tablets, and we’re selling flight training doesn’t mean that the same techniques can’t be applied. Here are a few to consider:

  • Storefront—The appearance of your school is your first impression. That goes for the physical space to the employees up front. Is everything clean and welcoming? Are you presenting the image you want to present? For some schools that may mean fluffy couches with people relaxing, ala coffee shop. For others it may mean a clean front desk with an office staffer who wears a warm greeting. Either way, decide what image you want to project and make a plan to do it.
  • Training—Every employee in the school should be in tune with a customer’s needs. That goes for the CFIs, front desk staff, management, maintenance, and anyone else who represents the school. Clearly the needs of a CFI to teach sometimes clash with the basics of customer service, but there are proper ways to handle these situations. Think about conducting basic customer service training at least once a quarter.
  • Employee handbook—A company without an employee handbook is a company looking for trouble. In it, spell out vacation policies, disciplinary processes, dress code, work rules, and so on. Consider adding a customer service section in it as well. Apple tells employees to avoid the word “unfortunately,” for example. If you’re developing a new one, consider getting feedback from current employees to ensure they are on board.
  • Repeat customers—People want to feel like they are part of a club. Aviation is the world’s most exclusive open-membership group. Make your customers feel special and in touch. Challenge front desk staff to learn everyone’s name and greet them upon arrival. Encourage customers to stick around before and after a lesson to talk or ask questions. In short, make them feel good for their buying decision.
  • Marketing—You may not have Apple’s millions for marketing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be effective. Apple’s success is driven by their proper use of marketing, not their huge splurge of capital. Identify who you want to attract and target a message that speaks to them. If you want doctors, market where they are and talk up benefits of quick travel to vacation homes. If you want college students, talk about adventure. The list goes on.

Although no flight school will reach the level of Apple’s billions in net worth, taking a page from the company’s handbook is makes sense and teaches us about the inside of the one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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