Pilots HQ's Virtual Pilot Shop

Posted by Carl Helka on

Virtual Pilot Shop Display

The History

Digital Disruption

It is clear that the introduction of new technologies and easy access to the internet has changed our way of life today. From how we interact with each other to how we shop, everything has become, in many cases, more competitive and efficient.  

I recognized this trend early in my career as a professional buyer when my paper rolodex transformed into online searches for many day-to-day business requirements such as office and facility supplies. Surprisingly, however, there were limited online vendors for items specific to the Aviation industry. Even today, many professional aviation buyers rely on their current contacts and relationships to procure their requirements, often using an RFQ or RFP process. However, the general public has become well acquainted with the easy and value proposition that eCommerce has provided. This left me with the overall hypothesis that the digital marketplace would eventually grow to take over the market. 

In late 2008, when the large flight school and corporate flight department I worked for decided to close the flight school division, my hypothesis was confirmed. As the go-to company problem solver, I was contracted to liquidate the remaining supplies and parts. By mid-2009, I liquidated the majority of the surplus flight school supplies utilizing the eBay platform. I was surprised about the vast amount of customer requests I was getting to obtain new pilot and aviation supplies online.  

In late 2009, while on a mandatory two-week furlough from the corporate flight department, I decided to start procuring supplies to meet the eBay customer requests. From a surplus liquidation eBay store called "Pilot Center", Pilots HQ was born. 

The Brick and Mortar Pilot Shop's Engine Fire

Pilot Shops Crash and Burn

Starting out as an Aviation online retailer was not easy; many suppliers did not respect or see the growing value of the online market. Additionally, the company was quickly outgrowing the trunk of my Hyundai Elantra. In early 2010, I recognized that I really needed a brick-and-mortar pilot shop partner that could process daily shipments and provide access to products that suppliers would deny. 

My first stop was at the local pilot shop located at the Oakland County International airport. Although this pilot shop was intrigued with my business model and sales, the proposed 50/50 partnership found me laughed out of the building. Unfortunately, these individuals failed to recognize that I had earned over a third of their yearly revenue within three short months, and the local demand did not limit my business model. 

Within the next couple of years, this Pilot Shop was no longer in business. The pilot shop director and another local professional buyer on the field tried to reopen including eCommerce into their business plans. However, limited volume, space constraints, high real estate overhead ultimately led to the sale of the company to the FBO landlord.  

The FBO landlords soon recognized their challenge. Many customers looking to purchase from the local shop wanted or demanded the same prices found online, however, given the limited discounts due to a lack of volume-limited competitiveness and profitability. Within months, the final local pilot shop on one of the nation's busiest general and corporate aviation airports was closed. 

The Problem

Today I am constantly plagued with complaints and suggestions from local customers. 

  • "There are no 'Real' pilot shops left."
  • "You should open a pilot shop at the airport."

As stated above, it is easy to understand why there is a limited amount of brick-and-mortar pilot shops left. The remaining pilot shops either have a solid online presence or other revenue streams supporting the business. A robust online presence is often not enough as the requirement of volume and inventory takes up too much space to be crammed into a small showroom.  

Today, Pilots HQ has grown to EIGHT warehouses. For my business to relocate on the field, I would have to completely take over an existing FBO and dedicate the hangar space to warehousing rather than aircraft. And let's be honest, industrial warehouse space is significantly more cost-effective.

However, we are dedicated to figuring out how to better serve all of our customers, both online and in person.

A Solution to the Growing Problem of Limited Local Access to Aviation Supplies.Virtual Pilot Shop Idea

Virtual Pilot Shop Kiosk

To successfully solve this problem for our customers, we need to first solve the FBO/Flight Schools issue by reducing the operating overhead, ensuring competitiveness, and driving profitability.

We developed the virtual pilot shop program with the brick-and-mortar store's pain points in mind. The virtual pilot shop consists of an electronic device utilized for ordering, creating a seamless process where the partner can share in revenues gained from product sales while remaining competitive with the online sellers and managing costly overhead.

Virtual Pilot Shop Partners Can:

  • Earn commission revenue from sales within the platform.
  • Offer their customers various products from our catalog of over 30,000 items.
  • Offer customers more value with:
    • Prices competitive to online retailers.
    • Immediate purchases from a display case or back stock.
    • Virtually order from anywhere with the online portal.
    • Reduced shipping cost with "Will Call" scheduled deliveries.
    • Direct to consumer shipping.
    • And Much More.

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      Virtual Pilot Shop Pricing

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