Still in the Game: Does Record Number of AirVenture Exhibitors Show a Positive Trend for GA?

3:57 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

As EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2013 fades into a happy memory, there is good news to report on many fronts as we reflect on the now-concluded show. It was a week of great weather, featuring a sky filled with the amazing sights of more than 10,000 aircraft, being enjoyed by the estimated 500,000 Airplanistas in total attendance.

But one of the big numbers that many did not expect in this economy was the record number of 821 exhibitors at the show. For anyone who has ever signed the checks to buy space at any trade show, bringing your company road show to the customers is always a huge expenditure with massive logistics to overcome. So this number is quite notable.

John Zimmerman,
Sporty's Pilot Shop

Airplanista wanted to find out how the show went for some of these exhibitors, and three company representatives responded to virtually "sit down" and discuss their experience selling at the World's Largest Aviation Celebration. We spoke to Patrick Carter, President of Nflight Technology, Dean Siracusa, founder and inventor of Flying Eyes Sunglasses, and John Zimmerman, Vice President, Sporty's Pilot Shop.

All three of these exhibitors expressed a positive view of their AirVenture experience. Let's begin with a look inside one of the show's most visible booths:
"It's fair to say Oshkosh 2013 was one of our best shows ever," said Zimmerman, of Sporty's Pilot Shop. "We had great traffic all week, with engaged visitors asking lots of good questions and maybe most importantly, outstanding sales. Interest in iPad gear - especially our new Stratus ADS-B receiver - was incredible...we sold out our stock at the show! We also had a pleasantly surprising amount of interest in our core flight training products. These are very successful products for us, but they can be hit or miss at a big airshow. But we sold a lot of our Learn to Fly and Instrument Rating courses, and we had multiple solid leads for our flight school back in Cincinnati. I hope this is the start of a trend, as it would be welcome indeed. We had a spectacular week at Oshkosh, it's a special place."
Sporty's Pilot Shop had a 1,500 sq. ft. tent right outside Hangar B, and reported "strong" foot traffic every day but Sunday, the closing day of the show, when all exhibitors reported a drop in sales and traffic. What is interesting though, said Zimmerman, was the amount of interest in new technology. "People are always looking for show specials at Oshkosh, but more than that, they're looking for what's new. We had far more people looking for new products or looking to learn about technology than just shopping for a deal. I'd say half of the attendees were quite engaged and knowledgeable about the products, and others were just learning. But that's fine, because one of the best parts of the show is that we get to talk to brand new or no longer current pilots. It's great to encourage them."

Top sellers for Sporty's Pilot Shop was their iPad gear, aviation headsets like the new Lightspeed Zulu PFX and the ever-popular Bose A20, Learn to Fly products and cockpit video systems.

As a long-time exhibitor at the show, Sporty's Pilot Shop knows the time and money invested always brings great ROI. "We've been coming to Oshkosh for many years, Zimmerman said. "This was our largest display, and it ended up being one of our best shows ever in terms of sales. Airventure is a lot of work, and it's not cheap to be there with a big booth like ours. But it's worth it, because there's no place like Oshkosh. We have a fantastic relationship with EAA, and they take care of their exhibitors very well."

Patrick Carter and
Amelia Rose Earhart
Carter, of Nflight, agrees that while the show can present challenges, it is almost mandatory for anyone with GA customers. "This was our third year coming to AirVenture," he said, "and the traffic seemed better than last year. Exhibiting at this show is a must for anyone in the General Aviation industry. Sure, it's a logistical challenge and a lot of work to relocate 1,000 miles away from our home base, but worth the effort because it's always a pleasure to get to spend the week with our customers. It helps that the treatment we receive from EAA organizers was excellent."

Nflight reported "higher than expected sales" on the spot, even without offering a "show special" or discount. Popular items included their Nflightcam for iPhone kit and a new cable for the GoPro Hero3 camera that allows the user to capture audio from their intercom and also power the camera at the same time using a USB cable. "The demand for this product was overwhelming and we sold out in four hours," said Carter. 
That equipment will no doubt be installed in the Pilatus PC-12 NG that Carter will co-pilot when he sets off with Denver, CO, television traffic and weather news anchor Amelia Rose Earhart, in the summer of 2014 on an around-the-world flight. This high-profile flight will take more than 100 hours and cross 34 countries with 14 stops to symbolically complete the route that Earhart's namesake, Amelia Mary Earhart, was flying when she disappeared in 1937. Carter assured Airplanista that he will capture plenty of video footage on this flight to showcase his company's products.
Dean Siracusa,
Flying Eyes Sunglasses
While both Sporty's Pilot Shop and Nflight Technology are veteran AirVenture exhibitors, for Siracusa and Flying Eyes Sunglasses, his first time selling at the show was a learning experience.

"Because of the distance from the flight line and main aircraft displays," Siracusa said, "we had many more non-pilots than actual pilots at our booth. Because of the nature of our product, non-aviators are not normally our customers. But, when we did have aviators stop by, we usually sold them at least one pair of our sunglasses. Actual aviators who were aware of our product loved the idea and usually bought them on the spot. Foot traffic was busiest at the beginning and end of the day, but during the airshow, it was almost dead. And, for some reason we had the vast majority of the sales early in the week."

Was the experience positive enough for Flying Eyes to be back at the show as a future exhibitor? "It's very difficult and expensive to exhibit at AirVenture. But, it's also a lot of fun. Overall it was a good enough experience that we will be back next year. We'll just know a lot more and do things quite a bit differently," Siracusa said.

This sampling of only three exhibitors at AirVenture will by no means create enough data to conclude anything about the financial health of GA business. But the fact that the show set a record with 821 exhibitors is a strong indicator that those in business selling their goods or services to pilots are not willing to give up the fight just yet.

Each one of those exhibitors spent lavishly to buy booth space, add inventory, and bring extra staff to this show. They cut big checks for travel, lodging, food, rental cars, the list is very long and costly. It is a testament to the tenacity of GA business that so many companies chose to stay in the game rather than watch from the sidelines or disappear altogether.

This, my flying friends, is very good news for the future of the aviation family.

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