As he sat in the hospital room with his wife and new son, he remembers getting an email that a project had posted to the new website, which helps aircraft owners find shops to overhaul their engines.
“Then another and another,” he recalls. “I checked my Analytics and it showed my website was loaded up with users all posting projects. By the time things settled, I had received 450 visitors from GeneralAviationNews.com and $1.2 million of overhaul projects in a day. This was the point that all my work over the last year came to life. The invention became real.”
“That was an emotional day for me — my son was born, and my business was born,” he added.
The idea for the business began when he was working as a CFI in Florida and a client asked for some help in getting quotes to overhaul the engine on his Baron.
“I got the quotes, but it was impossible to compare,” Depauw noted. “There were no reviews of the shops, no Angie’s List. You could go on Yelp and get a review on a $10 burger, but not on an engine overhaul that costs thousands of dollars. Plus, if you chose wrong, it could costs lives.”
Telling the client he just didn’t feel comfortable making a recommendation, the idea for a new business began to form in his mind.
“I saw the shortage of information — the lack of reviews, the lack of in-depth information,” he said. “These aircraft owners were just taking a stab in the dark.”
So he came up with OverhaulBids.com, a website that addresses all those shortcomings.
He likens it to an Angie’s List of engine shops — but with prices included — where owners can search for information on engine shops, pricing and reviews for engine overhauls and inspections.
“Before Overhaul Bids, aircraft owners would have to buy engine overhauls on faith while relying only on the information that came from the salesperson,” he said. “I can’t think of another example of risking $15,000 or more on a service from a virtually unrated supplier.”
Now, an aircraft owner spends about two minutes posting a project and in less than a week, will have three to five quotes from the best shops in the country, along with information catered to their situation to help their decision.
After the quotes are in, aircraft owners call the shops of interest and award their project to whomever they choose.
Depauw has personally vetted every shop that bids for projects on his site — it took him four months to call all 75 shops on the site that do piston overhauls.
There are some big names on the list too, including Western Skyways, Poplar Grove Airmotive, and Zephyr Aircraft Engines. It even has Continental Motors and Air Power submit quotes for factory engines.
He also offers an educational component on the website to help aircraft owners really understand the process. The site’s learning center gives information on a variety of topics, such as understanding quotes, options, warranty, alternatives, and more. It’s loaded with external content for those who want more in-depth research on topics like what cylinders are most reliable.
“What I’m selling is confidence,” he said. “It helps people make well-informed decisions.”
But even better for the aircraft owner, the service is free. The shops that win the bid pay a small finder’s fee to Depauw.
Depauw acknowledges that a big fear of his when starting the business was that people would post the projects and then go with a shop without him knowing, allowing the shop to avoid paying a finder’s fee. That’s why, at first, he initially designed the website to process payments to the shops, less his fee, as a way of staying in control of the project.
“But then I got to know the shops and the good people behind them — and something occurred to me about that setup,” he said. “Why would I tell my aircraft owners to trust a shop with their money if I can’t trust them with mine? The truth is, I do trust my shops with my money. I’ve done away with processing payments and let the shops take them direct. It’s the classic litmus test for whether the shop is really a trustworthy shop. I put my money where my mouth is.”
He notes that many of the people at the shops have helped tremendously in designing content for the website.
“Some of them loved the idea so much they were spending sometimes an hour at a time with me on the phone discussing things that I would use in my learning center,” he said. “I try to send my shops hand-written thank you cards every month. I’ve visited half the shops and have plans to meet the rest in person. This weekend I’m driving five hours up to Poplar Grove Airmotive to have pancakes on Sunday. I love these guys and behind the scenes it’s very personal. So much so, that the thought of inviting in a new shop is a very, very cautious undertaking for me because it’s like I’m inviting them into my family.”
He also feels a lot of responsibility for the aircraft owners using the site.
“I try to touch base with the owners,” he said, noting he recently spent an hour on the phone with a Cirrus owner to discuss his overhaul options. “I want it to be as personal as possible.”
“Alan, thanks a million for this. Between your emails and the resources on your site, I feel like we have a solid factual basis to make a decision,” one wrote in an email. “I will keep referencing your site… lots of good info and advice,” another said. “Read about your site online and even though not actively looking to overhaul the engine just yet (I’m at 900 SMOH) I was very interested in see what your new site had to offer. I must say you have put together an impressive product and in a few years I will be using your service when the time comes. I had heard numbers thrown around forums for the overhaul on these engines being upwards of 70-90k and the bids submitted were much lower. Your service is extremely valuable in my opinion and, like I said, when the time comes it will be where I look first.”
Depauw added that the shops know that “if they do an overhaul for one of our users, it better be done right or the pipeline could get cut off — our site has a lot of influence over lots of aircraft owners.”
And that influence is growing. While he started with bids on piston aircraft, he’s already seen about $5 million in turbine projects go through the site, ranging from a single Pilatus owner to a fleet of Bell helicopters.
He’s also seeing bids from charter companies and even some interest from the airlines.
“It’s getting big quick,” he said, noting that the site’s current count of overhaul projects has soared to $12.5 million, up from $2 million in June.
And that was surprising to him. For example, he didn’t expect to see turbine bids until maybe next year.
“It seems like every week there’s something new,” he said excitedly.
One new feature he recently added to the site lets people get learning center content emailed to them at a frequency of their choice. You can check it out by clicking the lightbulb in the middle below the picture at Overhaul Bids.
Another new feature is under construction that will help standardize quotes, he noted.
“With engine overhaul, there’s no standard way to quote,” he said. “So, you end up with different formats that are difficult to compare. Right now I am helping aircraft owners understand the differences, but in a month I’m going to release a feature that will standardize quotes and put them into a spreadsheet-like comparison. I feel this will help people explain price differences and decide what shop to use with even more confidence.”
And GA pilots can remain confident that even as Overhaul Bids grows, they will remain a priority, according to Depauw.
“Despite our recent pull into the bizjet and commercial turbine market, our dedication to GA will not waver,” he said. “My heart is in GA where I worked five years full time as a flight instructor. I have 3,500 hours of flight time in GA and the instructor in me gets a lot of enjoyment from educating a first-time overhaul buyer. That part never feels like ‘work’ to me — especially when I get a really curious aircraft owner.”
Want to know more?
Depauw has a video that tells you how it works here.