Airplanista Aviation Magazine Feature Story: Piper Aircraft EAA Airventure Oshkosh Show Prep

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This aviation magazine article was originally published in the July, 2011 issue of Airplanista Magazine. You can view the original story in our digital aviation magazine here.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Editor

It takes a massive effort by a large team to bring Piper Aircraft’s traveling road show to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Once there, the team needs to be tenacious, flexible and excited about the product. This is not a job for amateurs.

As we stroll down the avenues and walkways that connect the many outdoor exhibits at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, it’s hard not to stop at least once and wonder how this gigantic circus celebration of aviation comes to life each summer.

Everywhere you look, evidence of months of planning and weeks of hands-on show prep are found. From a sleepy regional airport, KOSH explodes with life during late July, with trucks and crews building the exhibits that we enjoy dearly. But how does this all work, how does it all happen? What does it take to bring a large corporation’s wares to Oshkosh?

Recently, Airplanista sat down - virtually of course - with Rorie Ainbinder, Senior Manager on Piper Aircraft Company’s Marketing team. Ainbinder has been with Piper for 11 years, and has been involved in over 50+ big aviation tradeshows. The information she provided is an incredible testament to the hard work that her team puts into this event.

Airplanista Magazine: How long before the show does work begin on producing the booth concept and design?

Rorie Ainbinder: We begin working on a show approximately one year in advance. We start planning for the following year’s show during the current year’s show. We meet with the show organizers, the advertising, and sponsorship teams. Additionally, we coordinate and brainstorm with our exposition team on the display and layout for the following year.

Airplanista: What is the process to imagine the many staffers are involved, and what are the creative duties of those staffers?

Ainbinder: Our concept originates with our evolving Marketing Plan and current aircraft promotions. I then talk to our exposition team at Diversified Expo (DESI). Gary (from DESI) and I will toss around a few ideas and then I present them to the Marketing team for their review. It generally takes six to eight reiterations to come to a final decision keeping in mind that it could very easily (and usually does) changed once we get on site.

Airplanista: Once the concept of the booth designs have been finalized and goes into production, how much coordination is there to get everything to the show grounds? Please give specifics, how the move-in works, how many trucks and people are involved, how many days does it all take to set up.

Ainbinder: Nine months before the show, we negotiate and secure a hotel room block for our people at the show. Then, two months before the show, a show announcement and schedule along with an RSVP request is sent via email to our entire dealer network inquiring as to whether their team will attend, and if yes, how many, what work days and do they need show shirts. Also, about 60 days out, the graphics are designed, printed and shipped.

About 30 days before the show, merchandise for the Pilot Shop is selected based on the previous year’s sales as well as any new merchandise/apparel that we think might be appropriate. Additionally, we take into consideration the weather forecast (umbrellas, rain jackets, sweatshirts, LOTS OF HATS). Pilot Shop ships to DESI two weeks in advance of the show. Also about a month in advance, we start working with Piper’s Order & Delivery Team to acquire aircraft from dealers, Piper, and owners. We start talking about show aircraft, even though we won’t know exactly what aircraft we’ll have available until the week before.

Last, about 30 days out, we finalize travel arrangements, securing commercial air travel and rental cars. Typically we travel to Milwaukee (KMKE), and travel in teams to help control rental car expenses.

One week before the show, everything goes into high gear. Our trucks arrive on site, including the PiperJet Altaire Mobile Marketing Unit, a storage trailer, one motorhome and 5-7 aircraft. There are usually three trucks, four if we take the Meridian mock-up. They load a week before and arrive on the Wed/Thursday prior to Oshkosh and we begin the unload. We have three people from DESI as well as hired labor to help with set-up. Aircraft arrive the Friday before the show and sometimes we need to send our corporate pilots to dealerships around the country to pick up the aircraft.

On Friday before show opening, the first wave of Piper people travel to Wisconsin.

Airplanista: How many Piper employees attend Oshkosh, and what logistics are involved in housing, feeding and providing ground transportation to/from the show for the entire week?

Ainbinder: For the 2010 show, we had 46 staff members, made up of 19 Piper employees, 3 DESI employees, 22 dealer members, one University of North Dakota (UND) student and one Piper Financial member.

Regarding logistics, housing is coordinated one year in advance. We determine where we will stay based on price, location and number of rooms needed. We arrange to have a motor home on site for workers to take a break and get out from the weather. We also have beverages and food in the motor home for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Piper is a sponsor at EAA and advertises in Flying Magazine, so we are invited to eat lunch at their locations as well.

Because EAA is a long show including set up and tear down, I try to split the team. Half will arrive as part of the setup crew and work the beginning of the week and will go home on Thursday. The other half shows up on Wednesday and will be part of the teardown crew. Wednesday night we generally catch up so the first shift can debrief the second shift. Myself and two/three other team members are at EAA from beginning to end.

We all fly commercial airlines to the show. We secure several rental vans about 60 days in advance as they sell out quickly, and we’ve even left cars parked at the Milwaukee Airport as one team member leaves and another one arrives. We always encourage Piper team members to carpool for the week, and at the end of each show day, depending on who needs to attend what event, we coordinate transportation to the event or dinner and then back to the hotel.

Airplanista: Describe one nightmare story from a previous AirVenture and what it took to solve the problem so the show could go on.

Ainbinder: As you know at AirVenture you could experience heat, cold, rain or hail. On July 21, 2001, prior to the show while we were setting up, Oshkosh experienced a terrible rain storm with winds that were actually lifting our tent stakes out of the ground (We stood on the tent platforms so the tent wouldn’t blow away). Our tents were special dome shape tents and both tents ripped and tent poles bent. One in particular was beyond repair. To fix the tents and be show ready in time for opening day on July 24th, we sent one tent to a local Oshkosh sail maker. It took 1.5 days to repair the tent and we were ready to go.

The second tent was another story. The tent manufacturer was notified of the damage and was standing by. Stan Riker, Manager, Order & Delivery, is a Piper Corporate Pilot. The morning after the storm, around 6 AM, I drove Stan and another pilot to the airport. We loaded the ruined tent and poles into a Piper Meridian and they set off for Bangor, Maine and the tent manufacturer. Once in Maine they dropped off the tent and were told to wait a few hours. When the tent was show ready and new poles loaded into the Meridian, Stan and the other pilot flew back to Oshkosh, the team set up the tent and we were ready for opening day of Oshkosh. No one ever knew what happened.

Airplanista: Give my readers one fact about the whole process that they will find surprising.

Ainbinder: Generally, none of the aircraft on display belong to Piper Aircraft. Most of the aircraft are loaned to us by our Dealer Network, a university such as UND or a Piper Owner.

Airplanista: What coordination is involved in getting the airplanes there?

Ainbinder: The Marketing Department is 100% involved in the coordination in getting planes to AirVenture. We work heavily with our Order & Delivery Department. We begin planting the seed throughout our Dealer Network around May; however that is way too early to predict what aircraft will be available in July. Usually we have to wait up until a week before the show to finalize aircraft availability. Once finalized, we ask that the dealer, school or owner have the aircraft on site no later than the Friday before the show. If they are unable to ferry the aircraft to Oshkosh, we have one of our corporate pilots go commercial to the location and fly the aircraft to the show.

Airplanista: As each day of the show takes place, what efforts are made to keep all of the Piper booths staffed, up and running? What sort of problems inevitably develop, and how are they solved?

Ainbinder: Three weeks prior to the show, an extensive work schedule is designed. Each morning the work staff is responsible for checking in at the information desk for their assignment. We hold an “all-hands” briefing each morning before the show opens to go over the day’s schedule, meetings, press announcements, and any special guests. Additionally we talk about “what we are hearing in the market place” and the overall mood of the attendees. We stress the importance of leads and return on investment.

We don’t have very many problems – if they happen they are usually transparent and the public doesn’t ever see them. The team is so well-versed and experienced that we can manage through just about anything.

The biggest challenge but also the biggest opportunity is the fact that outdoor exhibits don’t actually close at a set time. The hangars close right at 5:00 p.m., but the air show continues. So we never have a set schedule - we stay open as long as there are customers. We have to keep the team fresh and energized. We make sure that they eat, take breaks, and if needed a little ice cream always helps!

Airplanista: Please offer up any other information about both the show prep and show presence that my readers will enjoy reading.

Ainbinder: EAA AirVenture is one of our favorite shows. We look forward to this event all year long. For those of us from Florida, we look forward to less humidity and cooler temperatures – while not always the case, we look forward to it nonetheless. We have certain restaurants that we plan to eat at, events that we look forward to attending, and old friends that we can’t wait to meet up with.

We have been at our current location at EAA AirVenture for two years. The team at AirVenture made it possible for us to move locations – our previous location was less visible and not optimal for displaying aircraft. We have contracted for this space for the next 5 years and LOVE IT!!! Prior to our relocation, another aircraft manufacturer had paid to have a concrete pad installed in a serpentine pattern – which is ideal for our aircraft static display.

The combined efforts of DESI, EAA, Piper and Piper’s Dealer network make this event possible - each team provides us with an immense amount of support.

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