I always marvel at how anyone makes a go of it in aviation. I’m especially cheered by young people who stake their claim. I’ll be writing about a young aviation entrepreneur or leader from time to time. The first represents success on the Internet: Neil Glazer, the founder of PilotMall.com.
Last month, I visited the home of PilotMall.com, the brainchild of 34-year-old Glazer. Some years back, he moved the business to Florida from Stewart Airport, New York – perhaps to tap the market in one of General Aviation’s most active states. Turns out, his business model (until recently) had less to do with Florida sales than outreach to anywhere and everywhere. Why? He was a pioneer in Internet sales of pilot supplies – the kind of thing you once bought at your local airport store or, later, from a catalog.
Neil was not the first to sell pilot supplies on the Internet. AvShop may have been first. Interestingly, PilotMall, Inc. recently bought AvShop and another internet sales pioneer, iPILOT.com. These days, he’s growing his business and staying above water. And Neil would not have been such an Internet leader had the long-time powerhouse in catalog sales not had their .com name held hostage by someone who grabbed it first. (It took years for those folks to win back their .com name in court.)
I first met Neil in the 1990s during his annual pilgrimages to the fly-ins held each June at AOPA’s Frederick, Maryland, headquarters. Down from New York’s Hudson Valley, he was impressive as a motivated young entrepreneur in the fly-in’s vendor tent. He started in business at 21 after earning an economics degree at The State University of New York. I thought he was a young person doing the Lord’s work, as far as GA and its next generation were concerned. And that next generation was mostly doing their thing on-line.
Reconnecting with Neil after moving to Florida this year, I find he’s doing a lot more “on the ground” as well as online. First, in support of grassroots GA, he’s backing the SUN ‘n FUN show that kicks off the fly-in season each year in Lakeland, Florida. He’s handled the retail operations for SUN ‘n FUN-theme merchandise since 2009, taking that burden off show organizers.
More recently, he’s taken over the SUN ‘n FUN retail store behind the show’s four exhibit hangars. This modern facility is now the PilotMall “aviation superstore.” Better still, it’s open now not only for the annual April fly-in, but anytime there’s a major aviation activity on the SUN ‘n FUN grounds. That’s important as SUN ‘n FUN extends its efforts to a year-round program of fly-ins, aviation education and community outreach.
A second area of Neil’s commitment is exciting, too — that of getting us pilots out to the airport again and flying more. I recently flew out to the Bahamas on a promotional tour for pilots co-sponsored by the Seaplane Pilots Association and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. But there’s more in the works by those Bahamas people to get us flying to wider worlds, including theirs.
Neil is one of 11 Bahamas Flying Ambassadors working with The Islands Of The Bahamas to remind us they are just 50-60 miles offshore and easy to reach in any light aircraft. Among the Ambassadors, Neil’s specialty is an unusual one: He will administer the 2012-2013 Bahamas Pilot Challenge. The Challenge will award five prizes of multiple hotel nights in the Bahamas among pilots who (after registering with the program) land at 12 of 20 Bahamian Airports of Entry before Nov. 30, 2013. Offering 23 resort hotel nights in total (most redeemable over multiple visits), prizes are worth thousands.
The Challenge will be launched informally at AOPA SUMMIT in Palm Springs. Neil will have details at Booth 801, where’s he’s also giving away his own prizes ranging from gift certificates to a $1,095 Sennheiser S1 digital ANR headset with Bluetooth capability. It’s an odd place to announce an East Coast flying event but hey, the nation’s GA media is there and Florida’s beautiful winter flying season approaches!
Neil’s been an innovator in many ways. But I’m most happy he’s doing more than just selling people stuff. He’s helping SUN ‘n FUN grow and giving pilots more reasons to fly. Otherwise, he’s like any other businessman, except 1) he’s still quite young, and 2) he gets one hell of a kick out of owning his Mooney. He’s in business BECAUSE it allows him to make a living in GA.
At 34, he’s holding forth at his warehouse outlet facility on the south side of Al Whitted Airport, right on Tampa Bay in St. Pete. His digs are nothing fancy – believe me – but his heart is in the right place. For those of us who have become discouraged about GA in our older age, it’s nice to see “the next generation” taking their shot. I’m proud to help tell his story.
Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
© 2012 Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved.