Company president aims to shake off culture of complacency with customer support, marketing and sales initiatives

Enstrom Helicopters is to increase helicopter production fivefold next year as it seeks to bolster its orderbook and cultivate a new customer base through a series of sales initiatives and product improvements.

Steven Daniels, president of the Michigan-based piston and turbine light-helicopter manufacturer, says a culture of complacency has surrounded the company over a number of years, resulting in dwindling orders and production last year of only six aircraft. He says: "I arrived at Enstrom last June, aware that while our products [the piston-powered F28F and 280FX and 480B turbine] were held in high regard, our approach to customer support, marketing and sales was inadequate."

He adds: "We lost sight of who our primary customers were - private individuals. From the feedback I have received, it is clear that there had been a break-down in communication between them and the local Enstrom dealers."

Daniels says he has put a new strategy in place designed to reflect the new customer-focused culture at Enstrom.

The company's international dealership network has now been strengthened, says Daniels, through the recruitment of new "experienced" sales personnel across 26 locations, and an aggressive marketing campaign has begun to promote the types. "We are also establishing sales offices in emerging markets. Our Taipei base is already operational serving Asia Pacific and we plan to have a Russian base by the end of the year," Daniels adds.

Enstrom is planning next month to visit China's Wuhan Helicopters to kick-start a long-standing agreement for local assembly of the piston- and turbine-powered machines. "Our aim is for Wuhan to build our machines for the Chinese market." Only a handful of Enstrom types are in operation in the country.

Daniels is also keen to widen Enstrom's appeal within the police aviation and advanced training markets, "areas which have never been properly addressed". He says: "We are evaluating the market for a new helicopter design, but obviously our first priority is to improve our current line-up. For the turbine models, for example, we plan to fit elastomeric dampers to the main rotor, designed to lower operating costs and provide a smoother ride.

"We are also planning to install night-vision compatible cockpits and energy-attenuating seats as an option." Enstrom's new strategy, Daniels says, is showing signs of success, with this year's planned production target of 15 helicopters within reach. "For 2004 we expect to build to 30 machines," he says.

Source: Flight International