The secret weapon of all great businesses

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to

While I am a bit of a workaholic who is not at all unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of my office during the wee hours of the morning, I like to stop into a particular coffee shop before I get rolling at least a couple times a week. Now, I can make coffee myself, at home. In fact, I can make coffee at home without having to clean-up, shave, or put on pants. The coffee at home is just as good as the coffee I can get downtown, and it’s a whole lot cheaper, too.

There are lots of really good reasons why I could, and maybe should make coffee at home rather than drive from my house, to the coffee shop, then back to my house – which is where my primary office is located. I go because I like it there.

That’s it. I just like it. The atmosphere is attractive. The girls behind the cash register smile at me and have my coffee on the counter before I even open the door to walk through it. Even the owner, a middle-aged man of roughly my same vintage, jokes and smiles and welcomes me to the start of a new day.

In short, they take care of me and make me feel as if my day is better because I stopped in to buy a coffee from them instead of making my own. And here I am with a Mr. Coffee machine standing at the ready on my counter. Something tells me that Joe Dimaggio would not be pleased to hear this news.

Well, Joltin’ Joe’s disdain aside, the key to the coffee shop’s business is their embrace of customer service as a cornerstone of their employee training. The owner and I have spoken at great length about this – and he has given me real insight into his rationale.

He acknowledges that nobody needs his product. It’s his service they come in for, and his dedication to providing that service at a higher level than anyone would expect is what keeps them coming back.

He’s right, you know. That’s exactly why I show up a handful of times per week. It’s the exact reason that I’ll keep going, too. They treat me well – that’s pretty much the whole secret to his businesses success.

That is not the experience many walk-ins experience at the local FBO however. As an example, my local FBO has left a lot to be desired over the last several years. Not that the owner is a slacker, it’s just that he’s traditional. Like a lot of general aviation businesses, they see their customer base as a captive market. And so they treat them like captives – which isn’t the way most of us like to be treated when we’re considering reaching into our wallet for a few more dollars – or maybe just going home and calling it a day.

In a matter of days a new FBO operator will take the reins at my local airport. And while there are all the normal rumors, concerns, and questions about a changing of the guard, I’m enthusiastically hopeful and ready to roll. Because the new operator has made it very clear that he considers customer service to be a priority. Happy days are afoot, indeed.

Years ago, after being stuck out overnight on what may have been the longest and worst check-ride in the history of mankind (my DPE sank the Seminole I flew in for the ride in a mud bog – guess who got to dig it out?) I found myself unable to get home because of a line of powerful Florida thunderstorms. The better part of valor had me putting down in Merritt Island for about five hours to ride the weather out in the safety of a cement block building that was bolted down to the ground.

I found myself unshaven, unshowered, and very hungry but without a penny in cash to spend in the vending machines at the FBO. When I asked if I could charge a few bucks on my American Express card, the owner told me that wasn’t possible. My rumbling stomach wasn’t happy with that answer. But then something interesting happened. She asked me why I wanted cash. So I told her.

After hearing my story she took pity on me, and handed over a $10 bill so that I could grab a sandwich and a drink out of the machines. I thanked her, and made a mental note to name a daughter after her if I was ever lucky enough to have one.

When I got home I mailed $20 back to the FBO operator with a note thanking her for her generosity and consideration of a poor flight instructor on his way home from a rough couple of days. Unbelievably, she returned my check with a note of her own. She said that she was just doing what any decent person would do. And that was that, as far as she was concerned.

Now that’s a level of customer service that’s rare. I will admit that some will make the case that she lost money on that deal. She didn’t though. The money she fronted me was all spent in her FBO. And the gratitude I felt was returned by my heartfelt recommendations for my peers to visit Merritt Island whenever they had the chance, if for no other reason than to meet the woman who bailed me out when I needed it most. Which they did. She made a convert out of me, and I wasn’t even planning to land there, I just diverted to the best option available and made the most of the situation I found. Her kindness resulted in who knows how many more snack sales, and fuel purchases from my fellow students and instructors who heard the story and wanted to see for themselves this woman who held her customers in such high esteem.

Yessiree-bob, exceptional customer service leaves a lasting impression. It must, I’m still talking about an FBO operator’s soft heart and her $10 gift more than 20 years later. That’s a pretty good return on investment, don’t you think?

You can reach Jamie at



  1. says

    What a great article. At present count, I’m running eleven different companies and preach customer service to the N’th degree. A couple of years ago, I found myself in a very frustrating position of being considered as a captive customer at the most convenient airport located near my office. The day that broke the camel’s back, I asked for my plane to be pulled out and I flew to another local airport where I was greeted with open arms. Since then, they have been friendly, courteous and pay attention to the little details that simply make you smile and want to continue doing business with them and I have never looked back. In fact, I was recently made aware that they were named the number one FBO in the country by somebody. I’d like to personally thank the entire staff at JA Air in Aurora, Illinois for outstanding customer service.

    I highly recommend that anyone who likes great people, great service and warm chocolate chip cookies drop in on these folks. (And No, I do not work there… :-) )

    Best regards,

    John Wilson

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