Steve Varsano is the founder of The Jet Business, an international company selling pre-owned private jets. Uniquely though, he sells them from a high-tech, gentleman’s club-like store on London’s Park Lane – the only place where you can literally walk in off the street and leave the owner of your own aircraft.
“When I first learned about the business from this guy I met he took me to his ‘office’ – and I couldn’t believe it,” Varsano recalls. “It was a bunch of guys in their shorts sat in their kitchen. I couldn’t believe that you could sell such expensive products in such a way. I thought the customer was being hugely under-served.”
Disrupting the usual industry practice of dealing with largely anonymous brokers by phone and email, The Jet Business is now looking to open further ‘stores’ in Dubai, New York and in the Far East. A lot of changing about the private jet industry he says – “for example, the days of customers just wanting to buy the biggest jet they can ended with the crash in 2008 – now they really want value,” he notes. But much of it is has failed to move with the luxury goods industry at large. And he’s set on doing just that.
MM: What was the thinking behind deciding to open what is, in effect, a private plane shop?
VS: We’re dealing with a very very thin stratosphere of people – I estimate there are around 20,000 people on the planet I could sell to – and they talk to each other. In that world there are one or two degrees of separation. It’s personal. I wanted to see those clients face to face but some locations take days to get to. So I wanted to create a place that clients would be happy to come to. That meant creating an environment they’re happy to be in, with the latest tech and market intelligence. When I suggested the idea plenty of people in the industry told me to check into a psychiatric ward. But I just thought that people spending that kind of money deserve better, in terms of the attention and education they receive.
MM: Do you have a sales pitch?
SV: You can’t tell someone who’s uber wealthy and uber successful that they don’t know what they’re talking about [when it comes to private jets]. But you can show them that they don’t. I don’t know everything about every aeroplane and I’ve been in the business a long time. There are just too many parameters. So a client often doesn’t know why he should make certain choices. I want to sell them what they need and want – because that’s a much easier sale.
MM: The Jet Business is increasingly perceived a brand now. Is that an important industry change too?
VS: I know from that experience just how much people want to do business with brands [having once worked in the fast food business myself], even when the expenditure is minimal. If it’s McDonald’s or Joe’s Burgers, invariably they go to McDonald’s. And so far The Jet Business is the only brand in pre-owned jet sales.
MM: You’ve said that your approach to selling aircraft is, in many respects, traditional in sales terms and, in many ways an obvious thing to do. So why are you still alone in taking this approach?
VS: The problem is that the jet sales industry doesn’t want to change, doesn’t want to invest. And, frankly, I’m shocked that we haven’t been copied yet. But then what we do isn’t that easy. Does that make us more expensive? Sure. But you’re getting the kind of advice that saves you money in the long run. Besides, when you need a surgeon, you don’t go to the cheapest. And it’s the same when buying an aircraft that will carry you, your family, your top employees.