Dan Dyer of San Carlos Flight Center in California was introduced to Bob Hepp of Aviation Adventures in Virginia at the Flight Training Excellence Awards during AOPA Aviation Summit in 2012. Dyer has only owned San Carlos Flight Center for a short time and discovering that Aviation Adventures has been consistently growing in a market very similar to his, Dyer asked Hepp if he wouldn’t mind sharing his secret sauce. Hepp offered to show him everything and answer any questions all the way down to policies, procedures, and financials of his fleet. After some phone conversations and emails Dyer crossed the country to take Hepp up on his original offer.
During the second week of February Dyer made the trip and I was invited to attend some of the day. Dyer had a legal pad full of questions and began ticking them off. Hepp was candid and supplied honest, straightforward answers, however unsightly they might have been. As the conversation moved into the areas of creating a “club-like” atmosphere, customer service, and selling value as opposed to the discounting price war, the ideas and practical solutions ended up flowing both ways.
It was exciting seeing two small business owners truly sharing practical experiences and actionable processes. Some of their operational approaches are different, but some common themes driving their success are selling value, an inclusive “community of aviators and aviation fans,” and the customer service to match any other activity experience available.
Walking away from the meeting, I don’t know if Hepp will adopt the pay once, rolling 12-week ground school that Dryer uses, or if Dryer will bring on a Cessna 400 and high altitude course like Hepp. I do know, however, that operations at both already successful schools will benefit from this meeting.
This type of sharing between schools in similar markets would be beneficial to all in the flight training and club business because, with a few exceptions, flight training and club operations are competitively locked in regionally. So there is little risk and a huge opportunity for reward. Put yourself and your business out there and start a conversation with a colleague. The Flight School Business Facebook page is a great place to start. Your business and the aviation community will be all the better for it.