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.

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Project Flight School: Package pricing

As turnaround specialists Mike Dempsy and Rod Beck began working with Cirrus Aviation’s Nayda Cattin, one of the first ideas to experiment with at the school centers around the concept of package pricing, selling value, and how to get over price objections on the phone. Below is the advice Dempsy and Beck gave Cattin.

The pricing below and the way to package it are suggestions. We have come up with a price that will build profitability into each program. Price is always going to be a part of the equation because everyone is after the most bang for the buck. The presentation and close are things most people don’t think about, yet are the most important parts of the business.

SPECIAL PROMOTIONAL PRICES

“Try Your Wings”

Plan 1 – Cessna Skycatcher 162: $795

Course includes: 4 hours flight instruction, 2 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 Plan 2 – Cessna 172S: $895

Course includes: 4 hours flight instruction, 2 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 

“Top Gun” Solo Course

 Plan 1 – Cessna Skycatcher 162: $3.495

 Course includes: 16 hours flight instruction, 8 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic flight manual

 Plan 2 – Cessna 172S: $3,795

Course includes: 16 hours flight instruction, 8 hours briefing/debriefing

Flight logbook and basic fight manual

NOTE: All programs are prepaid for special pricing

When offering packages they should be geared toward the goal of getting the prospect all the way to a certificate. This is an upsell approach that many flight schools do not use. But the opportunity is really there. So how do we deal with the common objection of, “The Top-Gun solo package is a lot more expensive than if I bought per flight hour.” The usual answer is to discount until the customer thinks the price is worth the package. A better strategy is to say, “We find our pilots save money by purchasing the package because they are more motivated to finish up quickly.” An alternative is to say, “Instead of us spending most of your time retraining the previous instruction, students who buy the package (at full price) are more apt to finish the course and reach their goals in a lot less time.”

Are the above statements accurate? I think that someone who flies more frequently picks up on the lessons quicker. The buyer wants the product that gives him the best chance of completing his training and realizing his goals.

We can also handle it in a context based on your actual experience with instructors. Do this by stressing the completion rate and the price savings. To the client it sounds like, “In our 18 years of experience training students, over time we see this program as being the most cost effective way of you achieving your goals.”  Then don’t forget to work on closing the deal by asking if they have time to come by the school today, when they want to start, when they want to get on the schedule, or when a flight instructor can call them back.

Make the proposition simple and interesting. They call and you outline the course for them. At that point, get them talking about the motivation for the course. Start at the top course involving the Garmin G1000-equipped Cessna Skyhawk and why this is really the way to go. If they balk because of cost or other reasons, start working down. Offer the Top Gun program. Say, “Most people who have wanted to learn how to fly actually get to solo an airplane and make the decision from there.” If that doesn’t work, go to the “Try your wings” course. A no response here is a rudder kicker! They may want to go a la carte, but at least you identified someone wanting to learn how to fly.

The real key with pricing and talking pricing on the phone is not doing too much on the phone or via e-mail. Get them to stop in to meet with a flight instructor or see the business.  Don’t spend a lot of time giving all the information on the phone. They’ll have no reason to sign up, and they control the purchase. Turning the questions around on them like, “Do you live in Sarasota?” And, “When would you like to stop in and see us?”

Appointments are the name of the game. You will be surprised by your success if you can get that action put into the thinking. Our Internet department went from a 11 percent lead to close, to a 41 percent lead to close by implementing this as the only thing you are doing. It works. And if you do one thing figure this out. Chances are, most of the time the person will purchase something other than they inquired about. They may think they want the 6-months to private course, and end up buying the LSA course. Either way, you win.

The next update of Project Flight School will Cirrus Aviation’s reaction and experience with implementing the course pricing practice.

 

 

 

Project Flight School: The test subject

The process of business optimization is underway at Cirrus Aviation in Sarasota, Florida. Various best-practice tactics will be tried and their outcomes will be updated here on a regular basis.

Below is a short note from Nayda Cattin of Cirrus Aviation talking about how she sees her business and how she sees this opportunity to share her experiences through Project Flight School.

–Shannon Yeager, vice president, strategic initiatives of AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community

 

I would like to give everyone some insight as to where I stand currently, where I’ve been, and where I’d like to go.

Where I stand: I am on a teetering point on a daily basis of drowning in my business. I have many ideas I’d like to see come to fruition, and I have zero time to do so. I run a small business, and I wear almost every hat there is, except turning wrenches and flying planes. I am ultra-stressed, extremely spread thin, and heavily burdened by regulation. I know that fellow flight school owners feel the same pressure and stress. I know that fellow flight school owners are scared that their livelihoods can be dissolved in the split second of a grumpy inspector’s decision. I know that fellow flight school owners would love to implement marketing ideas if only they have the time and money. So I think represent this group well, in many ways.

Where I’ve been: We’ve been profitable–once. Once. We’ve been broke sometimes. We barely make it all of the time. We have seen the ups and downs of volume and had to change staffing to keep costs under control. We are seeing an increase in business now, and with a skeleton crew it is tough. We are trying to be true to our words and to our honor, and to give excellent service with half the resources that we need. We are scared to hire more because of the ups and downs. We just hired three more people. It is not enough.

We have had business consultants come into our business when we were profitable and we could afford it. We paid stupid amounts of money to have them tell us nothing. They wasted my time, crunching numbers over weeks, only to find the result that my mathematically genius husband spouted off the top of his head in the beginning. We had them give us Powerpoints, tell how great they were, tell us how great we were, teach us procedures for keeping track of our business financially, etc.

Where I’d like to go: I have several items on my mind that I would like to see come into practice. I need the expertise of someone outside of my realm to help me make these things happen. I am looking to the consultants for help on this. As we have begun this process they have given me so many things that I am honesty feeling overwhelmed. I also have some major items around the corner that I would like to market. They are extremely exciting and will really change some of our marketing strategies and some of our appeal as a flight school in the state, as well as the Southeast region.

So I will prioritize, get the business in the door, make sure I am compliant with the feds, make my customers smile, and implement some of these new ideas. While I am a swan gliding above water, my feet are kicking crazily underneath.

I think there are some valuable things that can come out of this project. I would like to see this work so that my entire industry can benefit! I am willing to put my time into it. I am the first person to be disgruntled and jaded by AOPA, Civil Air Patrol, and EAA. However, times are changing and I recognize they are changing. They are finally realizing what needs to happen in this industry for it to survive and I am honored to be a part of this project.

Project Flight School: An introduction and perspective

The Center to Advance the Pilot Community would like to introduce Project Flight School. The Center has arranged to have business consultants work directly with a flight school. Our goal is to discover if applied business principles can make a difference in the success of a flight school, and we are putting that concept to the test in the real world. No matter the outcome we will gain actionable insight through the process.. So look for video, blogs and articles about Project Flight School in Flight School Business, the Flight School Business Facebook page, and the FSB Learning Curve blog. We invite members of the flight school community to follow, weigh in, and make suggestions during this project as it unfolds over the next eight months. In other words, there will be plenty of opportunity to become a part of the dialogue.

The main players for our first Project Flight School will be Mike Dempsey, Rod Beck, and Nayda Cattin. Mike and Rob are businessmen who have seen success both outside and inside aviation and believe that flight schools can be profitable. They will be introducing themselves through blog posts during this project. Additionally you can look at their company’s blog to get a feel of their perspective. Nayda Cattin is the co-owner and business manager of Cirrus Aviation flight school in Sarasota Florida. She has been in business for 18 years and we will be posting a video introduction to her flight school, maintenance, and pilot shop operations.

Why is the Center to Advance the Pilot Community involved with the business of flight schools? Here is my perspective sitting in the copilot’s seat next to Adam Smith as we line up on the centerline and push in the throttle. I am feeling both humble before the complexity of the flight in front of us and confident that we will be successful on this mission. We have goals to assist all along the pilot continuum from reengaging certificate holders to bolstering the number of pilots in training. I agree with many who have said the CFI is at the center of the largest opportunity we have to make an impact on sustaining the pilot community. We will be contributing directly to CFIs in a number of ways. What my background in business, education, and instructing lifestyle pursuits SCUBA Diving and Skydiving has also shown me is that the experience of customers is often impacted by other things in the overall training environment. So to this end it is in the best interest of the current and future pilot community that we have both successful CFIs and successful flight schools.

In talking to flight schools, some define success a little differently than  I always had in business. Many told me they were successful because they were still in business. While that sentiment seems to be widespread among aviation businesses, to those of us  from other industries success is being profitable. People have shown there is money to be made in aviation. From the Center’s perspective, if your business is in a better financial situation you will be in a position to offer a better value experience to aviation’s newest pilots and keep the current pilots engaged through improved facilities, selectivity/matching of instructors, aircraft, and more attention available to devote to customer and flying community experiences. The value of the pilot experience is what will get pilots to complete training and stay active, especially as we compete with other value experiences such as riding motorcycles and boating. Just because we love aviation doesn’t mean we can’t show the value in our environment and services, which can make our businesses profitable.

–Shannon Yeager, vice president of strategic initiatives