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Optimizing Your FBO, Part 1: Pay Your Front Line Employees More

“Hire the best. Pay them fairly. Communicate frequently. Provide challenges and rewards. Believe in them. Get out of their way and they'll knock your socks off.”

-- Mary Ann Allison,
American scholar and futurist

During our FBO Success Seminars we put on for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) we do a segment called Optimizing Your FBO, particularly helpful during downturns in the marketplace.

By "optimizing," I’m talking about the decisions you make as an FBO owner or manager that can have a positive effect on your physical operations as well as your bottom line.

Often, when FBOs, and other businesses for that matter, are faced with an economic downturn, one of the first places they look to make cuts is their payroll. That might work if you are operating a clothing or grocery store, but take a moment and think about the time that has been invested in training your employees, especially the ones who are out there on what I call The Front Line, marshalling, fueling, and, most importantly, meeting and greeting customers.

These are the employees who have built a relationship with your customers. There is a certain amount of trust and comfort that a flight crew feels when someone familiar is handling the company’s most prized possession, the corporate jet. And if you are looking to increase your fuel sales at the point of transaction, who is in a better position to positively influence the sale: you or the line service technician or CSR?

If we are relying on them to be our front line sales force, why do we, as a group, pay them the least? In retrospect, we should be thinking about paying them more, not cutting back their hours, pay grade or even laying them off.

Ouch! We know this sounds counterintuitive, but let’s step back and look at your business.

Analyze Your Business

For the past several years, we have all seen the significant reductions in fuel sales, lower operations and the serious advent of contract fuel suppliers. These events, much out of our control, have reduced operations, margins and the number of hangar and based tenants. As good managers, we have been trained to analyze our business models, reduced expenses, cut capital improvements and prudently operate our business to maximize revenues and minimize our expenses.

From personal experience, I have seen owners of top-rated FBOs out on their ramps parking airplanes; owners doing what they need to do to continue in business. Yes, fuel sales have dropped on the average of 25 percent to more than 50 percent and more in some cases. No doubt some FBOs will not survive this downturn. So what can we do?

Invest in Your Employees

The key ingredient to your service business is to give the best service. This is not rocket science! We should invest in our employees; not only with a reasonable living wage and benefits, but also to provide a good foundation, training and support to be successful.

When you invest in people, they respond and perform well. In the book Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder, author Jody Heymann presents a “well documented lineup of businesses that have flourished in large part because their management practices include respecting and empowering their lowest paid workers.” For example, Jenkins Brick, a major U.S. brick manufacturer in Alabama, credits higher wages and profit-sharing with increased productivity and quality, as well as reduced turnover and fewer accidents.

Along with paying your front line team a livable wage, train them, and respect them. They will pay you and your business back by taking care of your customers. Ultimately, the customers will welcome the attention.

We know what you’re thinking: “This is a simplistic magic formula.” Of course not! It takes a constant balance of monitoring your business, your team and your customers. But the evidence is clear, pay your employees a living wage, train them, challenge them, and respect them.

And then get out of their way, for they just might knock your socks off!

Next blog post on Optimizing Your FBO, Part 2: Cross-Train and Outsource

John Enticknap

John Enticknap founded Aviation Business Strategies Group in 2006 following a distinguished career in aviation fueling and FBO management, including as president of Mercury Air Centers. He is the author of 10 Steps to Building a Profitable FBO and developed NATA’s acclaimed FBO Success Seminar Series.


Building Long-Term Profitable Customer Relationships, Part 1: Are You the Restaurant Owner?

As part of the FBO Success Seminars we conduct for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), we discuss how to attract the right kind of customers and how to keep them coming back. 

While my business partner, John Enticknap, reveals in his blog posts the methods and tools used in building a more profitable FBO, I’ll be writing about the often overlooked but equally important process of building long-term profitable customer relationships.

The following is the first installment:

Part 1: Are You the Restaurant Owner?

The lifeblood of any FBO is building loyal customer relationships. The success of these relationships can be measured in two ways:

Are they long-term, and are they profitable?

Studies on consumer behavior show a loyal customer:

  • Keeps coming back
  • Is willing to pay more, thus providing better margins
  • Loves your FBO and tells other pilots, aircraft owners/operators
  • Lowers your customer “churn” rate — you don’t have to replace a satisfied loyal customer
  • Boosts your long-term revenue and prevents profit erosion so you outperform your competitors

In the end, the effort we put into building these kinds of relationships will pay high dividends year after year, so let’s examine the process.

Company Culture and Service Deliverables

Every FBO is unique in its approach to delivering its own brand of customer experience. You should have an idea of your company culture, which is the tone and demeanor by which your customer service is delivered.

Are you warm and fuzzy; cold and unapproachable; or somewhere in between?

Your customer service deliverables are the things you do every day to ensure a great customer service experience, including a provision for the safety and security of the customer and its aircraft.

And it’s not just having these policies and procedures in place. It’s how you choose to carry out the delivery to your customers. Thus, your corporate culture dictates how you deliver services to your customer.

Draw from Your Own Experience

Observe the workings of your favorite local restaurant — not the chains. If you frequent one particular restaurant, chances are the host or hostess knows your name, and the server knows your favorite drink and meal. “The usual, Mr. Jones?”

Chances are the owner or manager is on site and makes the rounds to the tables, checks on the quality of food and service, and personally thanks the customers for their loyalty.

And chances are you have a consistent dining experience and recommend the restaurant to your friends.

Another experience to draw from is when someone moves into your neighborhood. Chances are you or someone will recommend the following:

  • Favorite barber/beautician
  • Favorite car mechanic or service station
  • Personal doctor/hospital system
  • Favorite grocery, hardware store or clothing store
  • Plumber, electrician, pest control company
  • Church or social club

Why Do We Recommend?

Never underestimate the power of recommendation. We do it all the time without really paying much attention to the impact it has on our lives and the decisions we make.

For most of us, when we recommend a product or service, it’s really a way of validating our own process of selection. We all think we make good choices, and having someone else follow our recommendation is affirmation — it boosts our ego, makes us feel good!

We recommend product and service providers because:

  • Their product or service is excellent
  • We’ve always had a good experience
  • We trust them; they offer good value
  • They boost our ego; they know our name
  • They may even know our children’s names, their birthdays
  • We might even consider them a friend

That’s how we should view and nurture every FBO customer relationship we cherish. Know each customer has the power to cast a vote, the power to recommend.

An Investment in Time

Building long-term customer relationships is a process. It’s an investment in time. It’s hands-on customer care and a commitment to understanding a customer’s needs, wants and desires.

At the end of the day, ask yourself, are you the restaurant owner?  Have you made the rounds to the customer lounges, asked if everything is all right, thanked the customer for the business? Have you taken the time to check your FBO for cleanliness, listened to how your employees treat a customer and walked the flight line?

Lead by example. If your employees see you do this, then chances are they will also take ownership — ownership of the customer service experience — thus helping build long-term profitable customer relationships.

Ultimately, you should be able to go up to any customer and ask the question, “Would you recommend our FBO to other pilots, aircraft owners/operators, and schedulers and dispatchers?”

If the customer is hesitant to answer the question and doesn’t say yes right off the bat, you have some work to do.

Next Blog: Building Long-Term Profitable Customer Relationships, Part II: Do You Feel Lucky?

Ron Jackson

Ron Jackson is co-founder of Aviation Business Strategies Group and president of The Jackson Group, a PR agency specializing in FBO marketing and CSR training. He is the author of Mission Marketing: Creating Brand Value and co-author of Don’t Forget the Cheese!, the ultimate FBO Customer Service Experience.


FBO Fuel Pricing: Seeking a Silver Bullet

Ever since the Lone Ranger first loaded his trusty six-shooter with silver bullets, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of formulating a single straightforward solution for pricing fuel at FBO operations I’ve managed over the years.

This search for the silver bullet is a subject we discuss at our FBO Success Seminars, and FBO managers in attendance often voice their concerns about how to effectively price fuel. On one hand, they’re concerned about the bottom line. On the other hand, they don’t want to price themselves out of the market and lose valuable customers in the process.

Indeed, it’s a two-edge sword. The trick is to maximize both cutting edges. Let me explain.

Maximize Your Customer Value Proposition

FBO managers are no different than any other business manager that sells a service or product. The same rules apply. Every FBO sells fuel — both Jet A and 100LL are the same specifications from all the manufacturers — so trying to differentiate your business on product is almost impossible. Same goes for quality control: Either it’s done well, or you’re going to be out of business.

What you need to look at is maximizing your Customer Value Proposition (CVP) — the facilities, the delivery (customer service) and the selling price. We’ll discuss the delivery aspect in future blogs. For now, let’s concentrate on the one factor many managers forget, or do not consider enough, and that’s the pricing equation, which requires putting some effort into research and calculations.

So let’s do the math. There are generally four types of pricing:

  • Cost-Plus pricing
  • Demand pricing
  • Competitive pricing
  • Mark-up pricing

Before we decide which type of pricing methodology we use, we need to determine our costs. We need to know what it costs to get the fuel truck with clean fuel to an aircraft on our ramp with a trained line service technician. (Let’s not get into a discussion here on fixed and variable costs. That’s another blog.)

Next, let’s look at our fuel cost from our supplier, including mark-ups over Platts (or rack price), plus transportation, plus fed taxes, plus flowage fees, plus state fees (not sales tax) and any other local fees. In today’s marketplace, that number is greater than $3 per gallon for Jet A.

Now we need to look at your cost of labor and overhead and covert the number to a per gallon rate.

After that exercise, let’s say we have our fuel cost at $3.10 and our cost of labor and overhead of $0.55 per gallon. So our cost is $3.65/gallon. (This example is for Jet A.)

But before we start talking about which pricing method to use, we need to do some research on your FBO marketplace. If we look at various publications and web sites, like, we can determine local and national fuel selling prices.

One current survey for national and regional pricing shows the following:

  • Average high selling price: $6.66/gal. (range of over $7 to just under $6)
  • Average low selling price: $3.64/gal. (range of over $5.40 to a low of $3.16)

This translates to a national average selling price of $5.05. In addition, find out what the local posted fuel pricing is at your competitor FBO and within a 50-mile radius of your base.

The other research question you need to tackle is: What are the contract fuel selling prices in your local area? Once you have this data, then we can look how we put a retail price on the fuel.

Maximize Your Profit Position

One of the most important tasks we must keep in mind is maximizing our profit position.  Profit is our friend. Profit is our goal.

In order to maximize our profit position, we rely on a standardized fuel pricing method. We think it is fair to say most FBOs use either cost-plus pricing or mark-up pricing. Cost-plus means you want to make a certain “plus” above your cost. For example, your cost is $3.65, and you want to make $1.00 per gallon. Selling price would be $4.65; a profit of 21.5 percent on sales.

Mark-up pricing, on the other hand, says you want to make $0.90 per gallon. Your selling price would be $4.55 or just short of a 25 percent mark-up on cost.

Both of these methods are common in the manufacturing business arena. The difference in these two methods lies in the difference in margin and mark-up. This can be a lengthy discussion, but suffice it to say, a thorough understanding of your costs of operation to include labor, facilities, other income, overhead, etc. affects what margin you use to show a profit, which in turn, allows you to calculate what mark-up percentage you must use to get to the intended profit level.

Demand Pricing

We might suggest a demand pricing method. Service industries use this pricing methodology consisting of:

  1. Labor & Material
  2. Overhead and
  3. Profit.

You start by knowing what goal you have for gallon sales for the month. Establish your competitive average sale price within the range of the market of, say, 50-100 miles. Look at your fuel sales, each day, each week, and adjust your pricing on a daily, monthly or discount-per-individual-sale basis to meet your goals at the end of the month. Keep in mind, of course, what your financial break-even point is so you don’t end up selling for below cost. Demand pricing models are very complex and are used by firms such as airlines, cruise lines, freight carriers and others who sell perishable services.

Competitive Pricing

Competitive pricing comes into play with the contract fuel market. This trend has accelerated in the last couple of years. It has led to decreased margins on fuel sales. Has it increased your fuel sales to make up for the lost margin? That is always the claim from the contract fuel suppliers, which now include the major retail suppliers — a building dilemma for the FBO. At the FBO Success Seminars, we have a complete class on this important issue.

What’s Your Silver Bullet?

In the end, the Lone Ranger always prevailed and got his man. He did his homework, scouted the trail and, of course, he had his trusty six-shooter loaded with silver bullets.

For the FBO owner and manager, the silver bullet is knowledge. Know your customers, and know your business. It’s a thorough and detailed understanding of your FBO cost structure.

John Enticknap

John Enticknap founded Aviation Business Strategies Group in 2006 following a distinguished career in aviation fueling and FBO management, including as president of Mercury Air Centers. He is the author of 10 Steps to Building a Profitable FBO and developed NATA’s acclaimed FBO Success Seminar Series.


Welcome to AC-U-KWIK's FBO Connection Blog

We would like to welcome you to AC-U-KWIK’s FBO Connection, a source for discussion, ideas and general conversation on the FBO business. Here you’ll find weekly contributions from seasoned FBO professionals, sprinkled with bits of wisdom and peppered occasionally with some hot topics. We like to call it “Sage Advice for the FBO Community.”

When AC-U-KWIK approached myself and business partner Ron Jackson about writing a blog for their new, enhanced electronic AC-U-KWIK Alert newsletter, we both felt honored to be able to contribute to the AC-U-KWIK heritage as the definite industry resource for Fixed Base Operation information worldwide.

After 40-plus years of working in the aviation fueling and FBO industry, including as president of Mercury Air Centers’ 21-location network, I was eager to share my knowledge of the industry to the FBO community. This was the genesis for establishing our company, Aviation Business Strategies Group, as a means for sharing, teaching and consulting with FBOs to help them become more successful.

Besides sharing our FBO expertise and experiences in this blog, Ron and I regularly teach a seminar for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

Nearly three years ago, NATA approached us about teaching a seminar based on our proprietary 10 Steps to FBO Success. So in the fall of 2008, we taught our first seminar on-board a cruise ship as it sailed the Caribbean to the Bahamas. This first seminar has now evolved into NATA’s acclaimed FBO Success Seminar Series, and we have conducted several “dry land” seminars with the next one scheduled for Indianapolis in April.

For AC-U-KWIK’s FBO Connection Blog, we’ll touch upon many of the winning strategies we teach in our NATA Seminars and a whole lot more. Each week we’ll peel back the onion to reveal what we consider to be seasoned FBO insider knowledge — the legal kind — aimed at educating and motivating FBO managers, supervisors and employees. To that end, we hope we don’t disappoint.

Since my expertise is in FBO Operations, I’ll be blogging on a variety of topics that fall out of our 10 Steps to Building a Profitable FBO. Included will be winning strategies and tactics you can put to use immediately and over time in the operation of your FBO. Subjects range from Managing Your Fuel Pricing and Margins to finding “free money” hidden in you operation — and I’m not talking about the nickels and dimes found in the lounge sofa.

Ron, who has a considerable aviation public relations and marketing background, will be blogging about:

  • How to Build Long-term Profitable Customer Relationships
  • Making the Customer Your Best Friend
  • and Marketing Your FBO on a Limited Budget, among other topics.

In addition, we have developed an FBO Customer Service Training Program titled The Ultimate FBO Customer Service Experience: “Don’t Forget the Cheese!” This is not your entry-level customer service training curriculum, which teaches the basics like Introduction to General Aviation and The Basics of Airport Operations. Instead, we teach members of your organization common sense customer service and how to add value to each transaction by simply “Adding a Little Cheese!” Sound intriguing? Stay tuned as we feed you some interesting cheese nibbles along the way.

Lastly, we will invite some guest bloggers in various areas of expertise including:

  • FBO Law: Minimum Standards — Current Trends from Airport Leases
  • FBO Insurance: Insurance Issues and Risk Management
  • FBO Web Site Enhancement & Social Media: Developing Streaming Videos, Optimizing Your Site and the Value of Communicating via Social Media
  • FBO Finance: FBO Accounting: “The Good, Bad and Ugly”
  • FBO Construction: Keeping on Time and Within Budget on Hangar and Terminal Projects

Ron and I look forward to reaching out to you each week through this blog and connecting on everyday issues that affect the bottom line of your FBO operations. If we happen to hit on a subject that you’d like to comment on, or if you want us to address a certain issue, please let us know by sending an e-mail.

One thing is for certain, we’ll add a little spice to your FBO life and maybe some sage advice along the way.

John Enticknap

John Enticknap founded Aviation Business Strategies Group in 2006 following a distinguished career in aviation fueling and FBO management, including as president of Mercury Air Centers. He is the author of 10 Steps to Building a Profitable FBO and developed NATA’s acclaimed FBO Success Seminar Series.

Ron Jackson

Ron Jackson is co-founder of Aviation Business Strategies Group and president of The Jackson Group, a PR agency specializing in FBO marketing and CSR training. He is the author of Mission Marketing: Creating Brand Value and co-author of Don’t Forget the Cheese!, the ultimate FBO Customer Service Experience.

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