The Jet Business is taking aircraft sales right to billionaire main street with the opening in London of what it claims is the first storefront retail outlet of its type. The first store in the new chain is due to open this week at Hyde Park Corner right where three of the UK capital’s most exclusive neighborhoods–Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Mayfair–converge. Now it is laying plans to open a store in the Chinese capital Beijing and, eventually, another in New York City.
Right at the heart of the business aviation boutique is a mockup of an Airbus ACJ319 cabin with a sample interior that can be removed to allow other manufacturers’ cabins to be represented in the space. At the front end of the ACJ cabin, which has been developed by UK-based interiors specialist Design Q, is a conference room area, which leads back into a bedroom.
Beyond the cabin mockup is a private meeting room featuring a large video wall on which sample interiors can be displayed, as well as extensive data about available aircraft options. On the other side of the store, separated by a 26-foot video wall, is a “trading floor” area with six workstations–designed to look like cockpits–where The Jet Business’s team of sales executives and technical experts work to match the preferences of prospective clients with available aircraft. The store also has legal and financial expertise on site to help to close deals on the spot.
The move into direct retailing of private jets is the brainchild of Steven Varsano. He told AIN that after 32 years in aircraft sales it still amazes him that people are willing to buy and trade aircraft with little or no face-to-face contact. In his view, business aviation could significantly expand its client base–especially in emerging markets–if customers had a more user-friendly way to get acquainted with what it has to offer. The company mainly trades in preowned aircraft but can also get involved in transactions for new aircraft delivery positions.
Since 1979, Varsano has completed more than 300 aircraft transactions with a combined value of more than $3 billion, more often representing buyers rather than sellers. “The lack of personalization still amazes me,” he commented, pointing out that he will make a two-day trip for a one-hour meeting with key clients.
In Varsano’s view, today there is even more need for places where buyers can get independent advice about aircraft options, because so many new customers from markets such as the Middle East and Asia have had no previous exposure to business aviation. “Buyers today are often not educated as to the available options,” said Varsano. “Part of this is due to the arrival of instant wealth and the fact that people are not following the normal progression [of starting out with a small aircraft and working up through product lines].”
Varsano believes that some well-qualified would-be aircraft buyers have simply walked away from business aviation because they find the existing sales process so unsatisfactory. In his view, it is simply too inconvenient for them to have individual meetings with all the aircraft manufacturers, in each case only being shown options from that company’s portfolio. The Jet Business store is intended quite literally as a one-stop-shop where buyers can view an array of available options and discuss these in a neutral environment.
During visits to the store, clients can sit down with The Jet Business team and use customized iPads to work through various options and sets of data (all of which can be viewed on the large screens). The company has developed its own application for the aircraft selection process, prompting buyers to address four core questions: how much do they want to spend on an aircraft, what payload and range do they need and what is their preference in terms of aircraft age.
So why start in London, given that the UK economy is hardly in robust health? Very simply, London continues to be the world’s busiest hub for ultra high-net-worth individuals from around the planet. Within walking distance of the new store are neighborhoods that are heavily populated by massively wealthy expatriate communities from across the Middle East, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Asia and Africa.
The store’s discrete entrances and exits allow these prospective aircraft buyers to come and go as they please, and the windows can be dimmed for even more privacy. They will enjoy generous hospitality during their visits. “Think of it as free Starbucks for billionaires,” said Varsano. “We’re trying to build a brand for pre-owned aircraft sales that doesn’t currently exist,” he concluded.
In addition to engaging directly with business aviation’s growing potential customer base through his store, Varsano is also working to help aircraft manufacturers see how this approach could benefit them. “We want to partner with OEMs in a way that they feel comfortable, bringing their clients into our space,” he explained, pointing out that the stores could be used to stage special promotional events for specific airframers. In particular, The Jet Business is looking to establish sales representation agreements for the planned Aerion supersonic business jet and the Virgin Galactic space flight program.