They started with two helicopters, an office crammed into the corner of the hangar filled with beat up furniture. Today, there are eight helicopters, a flight simulator, an office building outside the hangar and services offered in three locations across the country. This company is Jerry Trimble Helicopters based in McMinnville, Oregon. For full disclosure, the company is owned by Jerry and my sister, Alison. During a visit to Oregon I was struck by the growth of their company and the customer service principles behind that growth. It’s worth taking a look. What they did holds true for other businesses and organizations as they mature into their potential.
Three core elements are the foundation of their growth.
Differentiated Vision. There are many companies that provide flight training services for flight instructors and other helicopter pilots. In this case, Jerry and Alison figured out their differentiated service early on. Given the extensive flight experience that Jerry has, they provide access to that experience at an attractive rate. And they maintain high standards for themselves and the people working for them. Plus, they understood the circumstances of their customers. People come from all over the world to train with Jerry and they need a place to live. Jerry Trimble Helicopters has access to housing for long-term clients. They have been consistent and unwavering to this differentiated vision since starting.
What is it that makes your organization unique? This is not a trivial question; indeed, it is a hard but central question. Once you figure that out, are you communicating that difference clearly and consistently in everything that you do?
Build over time. I confess that in my business, it’s been easy to fall prey to the shiny object syndrome. There are so many things that are possible to grow the business it’s hard to focus on just one! And plenty of people are hanging around to tell you that you HAVE to do this, that, and the other. To Alison and Jerry’s credit, they have steadily and consistently built the business over time. Alison is quick to point out that “growth” isn’t necessarily measured in profit. They have grown by expanding services geographically across three states; expanding the number of helicopters and simulators available for training; expanding the type of training; and expanding student housing options. They did it a little at a time focusing on the opportunities most advantageous at the time.
How are you prioritizing the investments you make in your organization? What one big thing is your focus for this year? A friend of mine tackles one initiative each quarter to grow her business. Pick one, just one, and focus. Then pick again and repeat.
Be true to your culture. I have to hand it to Jerry and Alison, they have infused their personalities into the company, and no other helicopter flight training company can duplicate it. It is uniquely theirs. They make sure clients feel like family complete with nicknames and celebrations toasted with local beer. Their equipment has personas – Juanita the airplane, Ole Yeller the helicopter (because it’s yellow, not old), Lola the fuel truck, Jethro the second fuel truck. Dogs roam in and out of the office as they have priority over…well, everything. Alison’s style which she calls hillbilly chic (their Swiss student calls it hillybilly chic) is reflected in the office décor – corrugated tin office dividers, wire mesh fencing, weathered metal chairs and hewn wood tables. This business is theirs and theirs alone.
What makes your business uniquely yours? How does your personality and belief system drive the culture of your organization? Does your organization have a generic or distinctive feel?
Every business and organization is different; however, these three basic principles, vision, uniqueness and focused growth over time, hold valuable insights for growth and top notch customer service. And if you find yourself in McMinnville, stop by for a ride in Ole Yeller.