It’s all about community. Other schools may have newer airplanes, a longer history, or lower prices, but owner Sherman Gardner said at In the Pattern, new clients will be joining a group of people who truly care about them.
In the Pattern, Denton, Texas, is the 2021 winner of AOPA’s prestigious Flight Training Experience Award for Best Flight School in the Central Southwest region. That’s a pretty meteoric rise for a school that started somewhat by accident in the summer of 2019. “People kept coming to us wanting to learn,” Gardner said. “I fought it because I didn’t want to become a flight school, but I have no regrets now.”
The school came as an outgrowth of this former youth pastor’s desire to start a business renting and brokering airplanes. Gardner and his brother began by renting their personal airplane to a friend. Seeing that it was helpful to the friend and provided some additional income, they decided to expand, and purchased another airplane. A scant three years after the business began, and two years after the school opened at Denton Enterprise Airport (DTO), In the Pattern has 12 airplanes, seven instructors, and rave reviews.
The key to ITP’s success begins and ends with community, and it’s something Gardner and his team work hard to foster. He desires to treat ITP’s customers not as sources of revenue, but as people. It’s a philosophy that began with his ministry work, and continues to serve him well in business. “Working in ministry all those years, all I did was serve people,” he said. “I work real hard to make sure there’s a good strong relationship experience with our customers and our team.” The focus is both intentional and a natural outgrowth of his ability to bring people together and build community.
Intentional, as in frequent community events, impromptu staff gatherings around a free lunch, and yearly planning sessions with the instructors. And natural, as in how Gardner and the staff treat customers daily. “We grow the community of acceptance. When people come in the door we know their names, we know what they do for a living, we know about their family. It’s more about the experience for us.” The school’s motto is “Experience Aviation.” It’s a nod to the fact that you can get a pilot’s certificate anywhere, but at ITP it will become a richer experience.
Gardner said he can tell his staff over and over how to properly treat customers, but leading by example is far more effective. “I show my people what I want to be through my example.” He said it’s especially gratifying when he hears instructors properly convey the values of the school, or when he sees a customer post it on social media. “It takes a good while to build a good reputation, but it doesn’t take any time to lose it.”
With such rave reviews, it’s clear the message is getting through.