Setting yourself up as an aircraft broker could not be easier. All you need is a desk, a telephone and maybe a computer." These words, spoken by a well-established and respected broker, paint an unflattering picture of a simple, low-cost, often solitary set-up that is commonplace throughout the international brokering business. A new London-based venture is set to change all that.
© The Jet Business
The Jet Business opened its doors - by appointment only - in January on the world's first "virtual street-level showroom". Strategically situated at One Grosvenor Place, near Hyde Park Corner - one of London's most exclusive areas - the eclectic mix of technology and consumer comfort has raised the bar in aircraft trading beyond the reaches of most competitors. "I wanted to create a fire brand in the pre-owned aircraft sales business," says company founder Steve Varsano. "My aim is to become the preferred vendor for both buyers and sellers by stepping up the quality and delivery of aircraft trading."
Varsano has himself brokered more than 300 aircraft transactions since 1980. He believes the increased use by brokers of phones and the internet has virtually wiped out face-to-face selling to the detriment of the industry. "I have been working in the business for many years and have grown a loyal customer base. We have got to know each other through face-to-face contact - this approach is vital. With new clients too, you can only get a feel for that individual and develop a good working relationship if you meet them in person. "
The Jet Business showroom's aesthetically pleasing layout is an ideal venue to woo existing and potential customers - including ultra-high-net-worth individuals, government officials, royalty and corporate executives.
It features a boardroom and meeting room in a full-scale mock-up of an Airbus Corporate Jet ACJ319 cabin along with foldout tables, bottle cooler and simulated floating clouds outside. The interior was produced by UK company Design Q - designers of the Avro RJ interior concepts. "I had the concept in my head for four years," Varsano admits. "It took one year to implement it."
The wow factor of the cabin mock-up is usurped by Varsano's extensive database - accessible via a customised iPad. This feature is put together by Varsano's team of analysts and business-intelligence experts. "The system uses real-time market intelligence, client preferences, brand information and a product library," says Varsano. The specially designed app hosts an encyclopaedic collection of business-jet types, covering detailed product specification, brand history, schematics, images and videos for each of the models. The information is displayed on a large screen in the ACJ319 cabin. Varsano has left no stone unturned with his venture.
"Knowledge is the key," he says. "If you have a multimillionaire standing in front of you and asking questions, you need to have all the information at your fingertips."
The showroom has attracted "overwhelming" publicity and the response has been "100% positive response", adds Varsano.
© The Jet Business
The Jet Business founder Steve Varsano
While The Jet Business covers the full business aircraft spectrum, its focus is primarily on the upper end of the jet market. "There are lots of brokers at the bottom end of the market. The atmosphere at the top end is very thin. There are fewer aircraft available so it is very competitive," admits Varsano. He brushes such obstacles aside. "It is a niche market, but I have been working in this business for many years and have built up a good list of contacts who want to work with me."
Varsano's longevity and solid reputation help to maintain a database of aircraft for sale. "We talk to owners and their pilots every eight to ten weeks," says Varsano. The most sought-after aircraft are the Dassault Falcon 900EX and 7X, Gulfstream G550 and Bombardier Global XRS, which he admits are not always available at the "right" price. "There is more demand than supply at the top end where desperate sellers don't exist. Buyers still believe they are going to get a better deal on the asking price if they wait, but sellers won't budge."
About 80% of the sales are for pre-owned aircraft and the remainder is for new aircraft sales - a ratio Varsano is keen to retain.
"My focus is on customer service and I am completely impartial. My objective is to identify what type of aircraft a client needs and I can do this with four simple questions. How much do you want to spend? How old do you want your aircraft to be? How many passengers will it typically be carrying? What is the furthest airport that you visit from your base more than four times a year? "
From these answers the database selects the most suitable aircraft types in seconds. Comparison charts showing the aircraft's speed, range, cabin volume and cabin length are then presented as a simple "user-friendly" bar chart. Flight times and direct operating costs of each aircraft can be compared along with a full-size cross section of each cabin.
Once an aircraft type has been chosen, the database lists all the models for sale. Every aircraft in the database has a full technical description, plus a plethora of photographs of the interior. "For so long there has been nothing out there to educate the clients about the business aviation market. This app puts the power in their hands," Varsano says.
The Jet Business also plans to develop an app to enable customers to design an interior for their aircraft. "We don't provide aircraft modification but we do have links with various suppliers and will offer free and impartial advice to our customers," Varsano says. "An interior design app will also empower the customer as they will be able to see a virtual representation of the cabin displayed on the screen. "
Varsano believes offering free impartial advice is key to forming strong relationships with customers. "We are not here to make a buck on everything we do, but to make the experience of buying an aircraft as enjoyable as possible," he says.
The Jet Business has attracted interest from across the world but many of his potential clients are based in the emerging markets of Russia, China, the Middle East and Africa.
"We have had a number of people through the doors from the clients themselves to their representatives and have secured a number of sales and letters of intent of ACJs and Boeing Business Jets."
© The Jet Business
The Jet Business's showroom features a full-scale ACJ319 cabin mock-up
Similar ventures are planned across the world with China the next base for The Jet Business brand. Varsano has been looking at a number of potential locations with a view to opening a new showroom by the end of next year. However, before the new base is unveiled, Varsano says the London office "must be running like a finely tuned piano", incorporating new features and offering new apps, including one for high-end helicopters.