This is the first in a series of flight school profiles, presented to offer solutions from schools that have found success and awareness for those undergoing challenges. If you think your school is a good candidate for a profile, email us at [email protected].
Nik Tarascio is young CEO. He grew up with a father who had a passion for airplanes. He plays music, and he studied computer engineering. He’s not a trained businessman, which makes it all the more impressive that he, along with some key staff, turned Ventura Flight Training in Farmingdale, N.Y., from almost closing to profitable in fewer than two years.
Tarascio’s father started Ventura, which also provides maintenance and charter services, as a way to stay active in aviation. Over the years it slowly grew at the competitive Republic Airport, but after 9/11, the school struggled to survive. The maintenance and charter operations were barely keeping it open. Before shutting down, Tarascio met Sam Wolf and the two decided to give the school one last shot.
“We didn’t even know what success was when we started,” Tarascio says. The school was losing $50,000 a year. He got some help when he discovered The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. The basic premise of the book is a perfect description of most flight school owners. It says that most small businesses are started not by entrepreneurs who want to start a business, but by technical types who want to work in the business. “Basically make it systems dependent instead of people based,” Tarascio says.
The pair read everything they could about running a flight school and a small business and came up with dozens of actionable and specific tasks they hoped would turn the place around. And it has. In 2010 the school was on track to lose $50,000. By 2012, it was on track to make $50,000. And the processes the pair put in to place started having a noticeable impact within three months.
The first thing they did was set the mission, vision, and values. From there, they could start to make the right hiring decisions. If the candidate didn’t share the same values and buy in to the mission, they weren’t offered a job, regardless of their flying credentials. “We won’t talk about the technical skills until we know the candidate fits our culture,” Tarascio says.
It also helped them identify their customers. Rather than approaching the business from a scarcity mentality, they saw customers through their own lens of interest, values, and fit. In the process, they actually fired a few customers and raised their prices. “Don’t ever sell yourself short,” Tarascio says. They also gave up on supposedly lucrative career students. With more than 10 other flight schools on the airport, Tarascio said they looked at themselves and the competition, and realized they wanted to play up their strengths.
Another key strategy involved every pilot’s worst nightmare—meetings. One meeting was a primary part of the sales process. Wolf conducts a sales meeting with every prospect after the intro flight, describing the flight training process and offering pricing options. He also provides clear expectations for the student and the school, making the process as transparent as possible. And because Wolf has a relationship with each student, he reaches out to each one after every stage check to congratulate them.
The other meeting is more traditional, but not what you’d find at most companies. It’s a weekly status meeting with all division heads that covers sales figures and problem solving. Tarascio said it is quick, lively, and competitive. And now when a problem is identified, it’s resolved in an average of six days, rather than the previous six months (and yes, that number, like all numbers, is tracked).
Between the improvement in business practices and some targeted marketing and hard work at selling the dream, Ventura Flight Training is succeeding against strong local competition.
Name: Ventura Flight School
Year founded: 1982
CEO: Nik Tarascio
Where: Republic Airport (FRG), New York
Fleet: 7 (5 for primary training)
Competition: 14 on-airport flight schools
Key fact: Tripled revenue in three years