The Jet Business: London’s new business jet showroom

Terry Spruce

As Steve Varsano puts it, “How do you capture the curiosity of individuals that have seen everything?”

His answer: build a full size replica of a business jet cabin, complete with designer interior, and put it in a shop front on Hyde Park Corner, one of the busiest roundabouts in west London; create a bespoke I-Pad App helping individuals choose the right aircraft; repeat the showroom in other capitals around the world. 

The Founder of The Jet Business believes that he has an opportunity to change business jet trading. Varsano, who started working for a business jet trader in 1980, says he was shocked by how many brokers were scruffily dressed and rarely met clients. Even then he felt that things could be done better. He came up with the idea of the showroom five years ago and has been working on it for three years. And you can tell.

Varsano says “It is a game changer.” He may even be right.

The Jet Business reception with length-of-room screen

Inside the showroom

The showroom has not formerly opened yet so the glass storefront is electronically set to opaque (although we did get to see how it will look when it opens).  The foyer you visit is just like any other office in central London. But then you get to the large brown leather front door, more akin to a gentleman’s club. When you enter the showroom you realise that it is pretty special.

The first thing to catch the eye is a floor to ceiling bank of screens running the length of the foyer, large enough to display full size cross-sections and floor plans of different jets for comparisons.  (It has also been used by children of prospective customers to play Angry Birds, the popular I-Pad App).

As you turn away from this you see where most of the staff of The Jet Business works. Behind tinted glass you can make out the team sitting in an area more like a trading floor than an office, with its ticker and screens displaying plane schematics. Each desk was designed to look like a Bombardier Global Express cockpit and the chairs are carbon-fibre and upholstered with Bentley leather.

The whole of the showroom has been designed by Argent interior design company – particularly Lady Tina Green who has worked on several significant super-yacht projects.

After the reception, there is a full-size mock-up of an Airbus Corporate Jet. Designed by Design-Q, Varsano says there are new designs – bespoke LCD lighting and storage compartments – that he expects customers to use on future interior projects. The windows of the ACJ can be changed so that the aircraft feels like it is flying at night and the Bang & Olufsen inflight entertainment can be used to keep customers’ children amused as well as to show presentations.

The interior of the ACJ backs onto the windows so people passing outside will see a cross-section of the aircraft’s interior. Varsano is confident that his chosen location will attract the customers. “This is the best location for a business jet showroom on five continents. Anyone who owns a business jet comes through London, and they spend their time in Knightsbridge and Mayfair,” he says. “When they come round that corner in the back of their chauffeur-driven car they have to look in this window.”

All of the windows in the showroom can be set to opaque if clients want privacy and there is a private door to an underground car park for VIPs that would rather not be seen jet shopping. Varsano says the showroom – which is not yet completely finished – has already hosted several billionaires and former leaders of countries.

Varsano’s office sits in what would be the bedroom of the replica ACJ319. It is an impressive office. He has applied the attention to detail you would expect from a man who has spent years selling business jets to demanding clients.

Technology investments

Varsano says his showroom is a completely “immersive and interactive” experience and it relies on technology rather than actual aircraft – it would be impossible to park 70 different jets in central London – to help buyer’s decide on which is the best business jet for them. There are 97 screens in the showroom and Varsano has hired a full time developer to create a bespoke I-Pad Application that powers much of the showroom’s technology.

Customers tap in their budget, the age of the jet they want to fly in, how many people they want to carry and the most distant city pair they fly. The app produces all the jets that fit the criteria, and all the new and used aircraft of that type currently on the market. In total it covers 127 jets and they are working on VIP helicopters now.

Collecting this information takes five analysts. In order to compare the types The Jet Business has created 1,146 scale drawings of aircraft and has a full-time web programmer.

Will it lead to deals?

Varsano clearly loves his showroom and is understandably proud of it. But the success of The Jet Business is not guaranteed.

While others traders have thought about showrooms he is the first to risk his own money. And he it has been a big investment. He will not give figures but says he could have bought a nice jet for the amount he has spent on the showroom and it is rumoured to be one of the biggest interior design projects in London in 2011.

Competitors question if the showroom is needed. “Customers want me to go to them,” says one European broker. “I have had two customers in my office in the last two years.”

However, all brokers accept that the business market has shifted. In the US jet buyers typically trade-up from small turboprops to small jets, to larger aircraft. In markets like Asia, Russia and the CIS they tend to buy large jets straight away and these in-experienced buyers need help selecting the right aircraft. Varsano is targeting these customers as they travel through London. As the showroom is genuinely impressive it will not take long for them to tell their friends. “We are building the first consumer brand in business jet trading,” says Varsano.

If The Jet Business can bring in new customers to the industry it will be good for other brokers and, of course, aircraft manufacturers. Manufacturer salespeople tend to start the sales process at the airport – with the exception of Hawker Beechcraft which has a London gallery at Claridges – Varsano will start in the city centre and take them to the manufacturer.

Even Varsano admits the risk: “I am either a genius or a fool,” he says with a smile.

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