According to estimates, there are about 650,000 active licensed pilots in the United States, including about 100,000 who work for airlines. So, by any measure, the market for catalog companies selling supplies to individual, recreational or hobbyist pilots is not very big. But this market, known as “general aviation,” is potentially lucrative, owing to the upscale demographics of the target group.
How well are general aviation catalogs marketing their wares? How good is their overall strategy and positioning?
We shared a number of general aviation equipment catalogs with renowned direct marketing guru Estin Kiger. We wanted to get his viewpoint on what these catalogers were doing right, or not quite right. Kiger is senior vice president of advertising at Bear Creek Corp. His company turns out the Harry and David, Northwest Express, and Jackson & Perkins catalogs.
Kiger brings a wealth of direct marketing expertise, so we found his approach fresh and exciting. If you have a b-to-b or technical catalog, you may find his analysis quite revealing.
Techy, Macho Men
Of all the narrow-niche markets, this may be one of the narrowest. Ninety-seven percent of general aviation (GA) pilots are male. Aviation industry estimates put the average GA pilot’s household income at $181,000, and his household net worth at $1.03 million. As pilots, their interest in airplanes means they are also interested in science, engineering, electronics and “tinkering.”
Selling in such a confined market space can present special challenges. Although most of the catalogs we examined carry the same or similar products, their presentations and marketing focus varied. Some executions were clearly better than others.
Let’s look first at the overall catalogs, including product selection, then at some specific product presentations.
The Players, the Positions, the Presentations
We concentrated on four catalogs, selected somewhat at random from aviation magazines. Even the catalog names give you some hint of their respective positioning.