Project Flight School: An end and a beginning

When consultants Rod and Mike first met with Nayda and the folks at Cirrus Aviation, the plan was to spend a few month together going through the business from top to bottom. The consultants would suggest changes, and Cirrus Aviation would try those changes and report on their success. But the relationship didn’t last as long as expected. Nayda was trying to run a business and be attentive to the consultant’s needs, and the consultants believed things were happening fast enough. Here’s Nadya’s take on the situation:

So the consulting relationship has come to an end a little prematurely. Quite alright, as I have learned several valuable lessons from the experience. First let’s talk about what a good consulting relationship should be. This is my second time getting consulting from an outside company and I have learned each time what I don’’t want in a consulting relationship next time around–just like an ex-boyfriend. And staying in line with that, learning what I do want, as well. First and foremost is a two-way street of communication. I want a company to come in and assess my needs by listening to me, looking at our existing business model, and then applying their expertise into the equation. Both experiences I’ve had have been in reverse order. In hindsight, my insight and my expertise is very important in this equation. I think a successful consultant will do more listening than speaking, more input than output, particularly in the discovery phase.

Point two is something that Mike mentioned and that is never to reveal our pricing. This is something I have done in good faith with the highest ethical intentions in mind and it has only created an absolute nightmare. I have customers line iteming me to death, and getting lost in such minutia, that they lose the whole point of their training: proficiency and competency. I am taking the line item back out of our marketing materials and I’’m getting smart about it. Mike said sell the emotional side of things. He’’s absolutely right. I know it, I’’ve said it, and I’’ve even trained my staff to sell the sizzle not the steak. But I need to take it a step further, and I fully intend to.

Before they parted ways Rod and Mike gave Nayda a list of priorities they believed would help turn around the business. Much of this is an extension of issues the two sides had already discussed, but it helps illuminate their vision of how the consulting process went, and how Nayda should continue.

Sorry, but this isn’t moving in the order of priorities that I would approach your operation. That said, I am with withdrawing from the project as of today. This is what our approach would have been given a “free hand:”

1. If inadequate cash on hand? (at least one months administrative/fixed expenses in bank). Solution: What owned assets can be sold (under-utilized aircraft) for example, and turned into cash.

2. Review airport and sublease. If less than five years, cause for immediate renegotiation.

3. Determine what fixed expenses can be reduced immediately.

4. Create and implement a cost-effective aggressive marketing/promotion campaign to generate a more immediate cash flow.

5. Create a new compensation plan for CFIs now, re-labled, “Flight Account Manager-CFI.”  Include incentive performance based bonus, student completion to private, etc.

6. If owned or high equity position, sell off under-utilized aircraft–any fleet aircraft not at least breaking even.

7. Increase dual rate by $5 an hour. Students are loyal to instructor. Leaving is unlikely because they will not see they are abandoning Cirrus, rather the instructor who by now they have a bonded relationship with.

8. Increase all rates on any aircraft doing in excess of 80 hours a month, including the Skycatcher and newer glass-panel Skyhawk. The high demand indicates the present rate is too low.

9. Create print advertising/promotion material and update the website.

10. Allocate a budget to implement a direct mail jumbo postcard to upscale areas of Sarasota and create a “special invite” Open House.

11. Train all Flight Account Managers on personal selling techniques. The hiring criteria for future CFIs would ideally require retail sales experience, outgoing personalities, a  professional demeanor, and so on.

12. Determine why any aircraft is flying in excess of 100 hours a month, then add an (finances permitting or creative leaseback arrangement) aircraft of that type within 30-60 days.

These are the first 12  major steps and priorities I would address and the order I would attack them based on what I know of Cirrus’ present financial and operational status. Unfortunately, and as far as I know, “FBO/Flight School Management for Dummies” isn’t out or available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

Despite the less-than-stellar interpersonal skills of the consultants, Nayda did gain something from the relationship. She plans to try a number of tactics in the near future:

Changes upcoming: club pricing. Ditching the block time credit program in exchange for club pricing. Looking to keep the revenue coming in monthly to help cover our regular costs. Marketing material overhaul also underway. Try Your Wings program will launch in this overhaul as an extended discovery flight type program. And finally we will try the business man Top Gun” program that Mike and Rod were talking about. I also need to set up my new marketing materials first. Stay tuned and wish us luck.

Even though Cirrus Aviation is no longer working with the consultants, Learning Curve will continue to follow Nayda’s progress as they work through some package pricing and update their marketing materials.

  • Mike Dempsey

    As the consultant involved with this project, the rest of the story has to be told.

    We were approached to work with Cirrus Aviation to IDENTIFY areas for increasing the profitability of the flight school. Our methods have been proven to work, the most difficult aspect of consulting with a flight school is changing the way THEY think about doing business.

    Rod and I introduced business methods that would cover the weaknesses inherent in most flight schools, those methods provide a better presentation to the prospect, while identifying the high quality prospects. In most flight school methodology, the idea is that anyone who shows up is the best student, and that is where the distinction of being good at business management to that of not taking care of business properly comes into play.

    Having a high quality customer, and creating value to the product is essential at this time. The flight schools are trying to put the poor performance of the business on the flight instructor, which is absolute non-sense…it is a management problem period! Whether it is incentivizing the instructor with a pay plan that keeps the instructor interested in the student progress, to identifying prospects and taking care of them so that they not only finish their training, but also purchase an airplane.

  • Jim McCord

    Just found this thread and it has been very interesting. I am curious as to why there are so few comments. Most aviation blogs have entries galore, beating dead horses to death over and over on landings, stalls, whatever. Where are the other comments?