20 minutes | Oct 31st 2020

Thrush Aircraft Inc: Erik Rojek, on Global Manufacturing Sales Tactics

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Eric Rojek of Thrush Aircraft explains how to improve your sales tactics like training sessions by getting to know your worldwide audiences. Danny: Alright, so we are here with Eric Rojek, who is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Thrush Aviation. Eric, thank you so much for joining us remotely all the way from Albany, Georgia. How are you today? Erik: Glad to be here, thanks for having us. Danny: Now we’re super excited. Now, for those who aren’t familiar this is what I was told. So, since I’ve been, you know, I’m from Atlanta and I’ve been down to Albany a couple times. I’m told the proper way of pronouncing, if you’re from Albany, is “Albenny,” not “Albany.” Is this correct? Or have I been totally misguided? Erik: You are 100 percent correct so you’re welcome to come back to Albany now because you know how the locals handle it, so well done, good research! Danny: I’d totally come back. So, all right, so for maybe… Well, first of all I’m going to say I’m super excited for this episode because I think a couple IndustrialSage people know that I’m a pilot. I got my private pilot license last year and I’m super excited. So, super excited to have an aviation company, especially here in our backyard, that will talk about all things sales and marketing for manufacturers. But for those who aren’t familiar with Thrush, Eric, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you guys manufacture. You do some cool stuff. Erik: So we’re Thrush Aircraft, we’re, mentioned earlier, based here in Albany, Georgia. And we are one of the world-wide leaders that manufacture an agricultural aircraft. So, one of the cool things that we do here is not only do we build aircraft, but we’re part of a bigger purpose, that our aircraft helps feed the world. So, agricultural aviation provides pulp and fiber to various crops, around the world. Currently, 70 percent of our business right now, is international. So we’re a global exporter of our product. And the big thing about ag aviation that we’re dealing with right now, with the growing population, it’s a demand to grow more and more yields. We got to produce more yields, to the same amount of acres. Agricultural aircraft, help perform that mission. Danny: Excellent, yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. I apologize, I said, Thrush Aviation, not Thrush Aircraft. I keep seeing the logo behind you there and it was like throwing me. But, Thrush Aircraft everyone, okay? Thrush Aircraft. This is great. Tell me a little about, we were talking a little bit, before we started, just a little bit about the history. And how you guys were kind of set up, and I’m just really curious about, to share with our audience a little bit about, sort of, your manufacturing process. Not, we don’t typically cover this, but I’m just excited about hearing the story and I wanted to share that with our audience. Erik: So, the factory was originally built in 1965. So, for any business to be 50 plus years still in business, is a success. Besides dealing in manufacturing, besides dealing aviation. We must be doing something right. Really we got two things right, it’s our people that manufacture and also our product. But the big thing really unique to Thrush is, we have full manufacturing capabilities, in house. We literally take raw material one door, weld it, fabricate it, form it and produce the Thrush line out the back. So when I say full capabilities, this is from machining, the fiberglass, the paint to electrical. Riveting through the aviation parts, so it’s a full capacity, that is all built in house. I think that’s one thing very unique that you see now, that we have at Thrush. There’s all these capabilities in house, that’s what’s so unique about the Thrush aircraft. Is one by having these capabilities in house you get to dictate the quality and the control. But really in the after market, we’ll talk about this a little later on but really to support sales, sales guy sells the first airplane, the support guy sells the next three. But the fact that we can control the supply chain, control the after markets on part and availability; is really what really makes this process all work. Because they have all that in house, be able to produce and support the Thrush line. Danny: That’s awesome. And it makes a lot of sense obviously, with this type of sales, not just hey we’re selling this product and we’re done, you’ve got to support it. you’ve got maintenance, all the stuff you said, so that the supply chain’s obviously super important. Okay so, lets jump into the sales and marketing piece a little bit. So, I imagine, we were talking a little bit before we were saying one of the challenges is that– with the product that you’re selling– it’s really a it’s kind of like an experience that you need to have. Talk to us a little bit about that. Erik: Yeah I mentioned earlier that really the best thing that we have is our product; it stands alone and it speaks for itself. But one of the challenges we have now selling products, a lot of our business is to new and emerging markets. You know, we’re heavily digital heavy communication there. But I think one of the biggest things that we lose in that process, is just the emotion of it all when you get to touch the aircraft, smell it. First of all, we are very fortunate to be dealing with airplanes: the smell of the jet fuel, to hear the engines swell up. It’s a magical experience, and I think the big thing that we try to do is get more and more of our customers to experience the aircraft, fly the aircraft. We do a lot of training classes, free of charge, you know. Training is one of the best sales tools you can have. Because all you’re doing is talking about the aircraft, talking about the product. How it can make your… And then more importantly, if we can teach you on the front end, how to make the aircraft more successful and beneficial, we both win. But you know, you brought up a good point, we’re losing the touch point in regards to a lot of our aircraft, a lot of our sales and marketing techniques. How do we use a lot of the cooler stuff that’s out there, to be able to get them to the point where they can experience the product for themselves. Danny: You know, one of the things, well I guess a follow up question from a sales and marketing standpoint. Are you selling is it primarily direct or are you working with channel partners, or what does that look like? Erik: We got a little hybrid approach. So a lot of our larger markets that we have established, we sell through a dealer network. And that’s really big, because being an international provider, with duties, with customs, import regulations. So our challenges are not only are we selling a product to a foreign market, but we’re also dealing with their civil authorities from a regulatory point of view, through customs. So it’s something to solve our larger markets, we have local representation. We also have a hybrid where we sell directly to various markets. So we actually do both, and the big thing for us is that when you’re investing heavily in the emerging markets, you need to get established, have infrastructure there. Then we look to bring on a partner to basically maintain it and take it to the next level. Danny: Yeah, and on that note, relative to some of the emerging markets I’ve heard from agriculture, quite a bit. It seems like Africa seems to be a pretty big emerging market. I’ve heard that, I don’t know if it’s true. But I definitely can see a lot of unique opportunities there, is that a market that’s emerging for you guys? Erik: A lot of our recent success right now is in South America, that’s a lot of our emerging markets. It’s a great market for us, we got a lot of airplanes there but there’s quite a few challenges dealing with the market over there. So, a lot of our recent growth has been Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. We’re doing some work in some other firefighting segments also. The tremendous amount, each market is really individually different, but the big thing for us is more and more… Like I mentioned earlier we’ve got the U.S has basically been the breadbasket for the world for all these years. Exporting our corn, our soy, we’re a leader exporter. But now more and more countries are realizing that if they want to feed their population, they’ve got to grow, invest locally to be able to put the food on the table. That’s where we’re chasing a lot of those markets for us. Particularly, I think that the next wave for us will probably be that Eastern Europe block. That’s where there’s a lot of opportunity there, a lot of wheat, a lot of crops being grown. That’s something when we talk about three to five years out, I think that’s going to be a lot of our growth. Danny: Gotcha, okay. So, relative to that I mean what are you finding to be some of your successful tactics, you know, for those maybe other manufactures that are sort of in a similar boat. Where they’re like, you know what, we just need to get people to try out our product. We just need to get them to an innovation center, or to a dealer, or what have you. I know a lot of heavy equipment manufactures, sort of have a similar challenge. What have you seen that works well to do that? Erik: The big thing for us, is once we’ve established a market and understand the opportunities there. It’s really that local infrastructure, in-country, and market. It’s just not necessarily the product itself that’s the people behind it for support, the people behind it for training, that’s on the same time zone, that can speak the same language; is absolutely crucial for it. The people element, nationality, that they can trust that someone in the market is absolutely huge for us. However, before you do that major investment there’s a tremendous amount of work you’ve got to do on the front end. Really your market intelligence, understand the market, understand there’s a long term growth, with the potential to buy it. But really to have to local presence, is one of the big things that we really nail, that really spurred a lot of our growth and success. Danny: I imagine that’s a very difficult thing to kind of navigate without having that. Obviously, you’ve got language barriers, you mentioned regulatory issues, and I think also the other piece, I think it’s a challenge from a messaging standpoint. What we are marketing here in the United States might not necessarily work in Brazil, very well. Or Argentina or what have you. Erik: Oh, you’ve nailed it. You know, so basically when you come up with campaigns. You’ve got to think of, how does it translate to multi different language, multi different cultures? Each market is different, each customer is different, each one with what they need. We basically have broken down our sales into two different buckets, really to keep things simple. We have mature markets, those are individuals who have been using our products for let’s say ten, fifteen, twenty years. Or replacement. And then we have our emerging markets, where basically, this is the first time being exposed to our product. So we really try to have global campaigns towards those regions of the market, that depend upon who they are within the cycle. Is the lingo that we use to a mature customer you know, these emerging markets would be like whoa Eric, what are you talking about, slow down for a little bit. So it’s really from the language barrier, to your communication, how to interact with them. You really got to break up each different market, and segment as its own little campaign, to be able to really penetrate those as a whole. Because you can’t just blast it out. That’s one of our challenges right? It’s so easy now, the digital age, you can have one thing and blast it out, and it can be there tomorrow, it can be there in the afternoon. But really having the best system message that you really need for that market, for that region. Danny: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it’s a challenge too I think, to your point, that yes because digitally we can do this, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Especially when you get into the whole messaging piece and international, it’s kind of a whole other ball game, like what’s going to work and what isn’t. So you’re saying, basically having a strong dealer network in those markets, has really been that best way of getting those clients, or customers rather, to experience their product firsthand. Erik: Yeah and that’s been really good for us because in our industry, I don’t know if any other industry is probably as heavily regulated as aviation. From the requirements, from the export, to the import. To have someone on the ground that can push, from a regulatory point of view, and everything you need. And also, we’re in ag aviation. We work within a delivery window, we have to deliver our aircraft. More importantly when our aircraft is working in this season, they have to get back to work quickly. There are no down times for days, there are no times to let’s just get to it tomorrow, when we have a mission that has to be done. Where vegetation is breaking out with the bugs, or things of that nature, we got to go back to work. Without having boots on the ground, or really people that drive it, the system sometimes… the bureaucracy and the layers of it, just get bogged down, particularly in these foreign markets. Our dealer network’s been very crucial to us, like I said, so all of our major markets, we have infrastructure and people there. That can get things done, have the parts that they need, have a relationship with the civil authorities. To be able to handle anything, that could come about. Danny: Yeah. So, I guess my last question would be; relative to the dealer network that you have here. A lot of manufactures are working through dealers or distributors or channel partners, or what have you. You know, sort of a similar set up. You mentioned education being something that was a really great means of marketing, earlier on. What else do you do to help to provide your dealers to kind of, from a marketing standpoint or sales, to be able to help sort of facilitate that a little bit more easier? Erik: Yeah, so you know. The training technique of it is… Whatever reason we kind of got lost in that, where we’re so used to just delivering a product and giving everybody the thumbs up and just going along. Where if we can do more front end training on the front end, it’s going to be a win for everybody. I think the big thing too, that we try to do too, is have as much interaction as we can with our dealers. Even though we’re in a foreign market, we try to have as many Thrush days as possible. Factory representatives visiting there, they really have their breach of they’re not a dealer, they’re a Thrush partner. They’re kind of within the Thrush family, under our umbrella. So many times I think we think of a dealer just kind of out there on their own, and it’s hard all OEMs have to make this decision right. Do you go all direct, do you go through dealers? I think the big thing for us and everyone in our family, our network, it’s really more under the Thrush umbrella from the signage, from the communication, from the literature, from the interaction with the factory. We try to have it as more seamless as a factory-direct type, to the customer model then necessarily as a dealer’s independent entity. They really have from the branding, we try to have them look the same, the proposals the same, the marketing material is the same, across the board. Whether we’re selling aircraft to Canada or to the Philippines, you have the same kind of Thrush flair to it. Danny: Yeah, no that’s awesome. Yeah, that totally makes sense. So well Eric listen, I really appreciate the time that we’ve had. Just kind of sharing with you the Thrush story, and honestly appreciate you sharing some of your challenges and what different ways you’re overcoming that. I love the education piece. Is there anything else you’d like to leave with our audience, before we wrap up? Erik: Yeah, I think the big thing for our audience is really agricultural aviation really makes the world a better place, you know. You see these airplanes, whether we’re spraying bananas in Costa Rica, or peanuts in South Georgia, or some of those famous mosquitoes that you see across the country. Our aircraft make the world a better place so, you see it, appreciate what they’re doing and how better it is. And more importantly out there, from many pilots out there, we think we got the coolest form of flying there is. We’re flying fast and low, stick and rudder, with the latest technology. So, it’s an awesome industry, it’s great people, and for the greater good too. There’s nothing more important than putting food on the table. We help do that every day. Danny: That’s awesome. Eric, thanks again for your time and the opportunity. I’m definitely going to come down, I’m going to fly down and come check you guys out. It’s a great excuse to go down there, build some more hours. If anyone would love some more information about you, what’s the best way of getting in touch? Website? Or are you on LinkedIn? Erik: Yeah, you can reach us on the website. It’s Thrushaircraft.com. All of my contact information is there, all of our full product line, some various videos there, of what makes the Thrush a Thrush. You’re welcome to come see it. Reach out to us anytime. Danny: Awesome. Eric, thanks again we really appreciate it. Erik: Thank you. Danny: All right well, there you go. Thrush, I’m going to say Aircraft and not Aviation this time. So Thrush Aircraft, we really appreciate with Eric coming on. You know, a couple key takeaways, that I took. You know, one was hey listen there definitely is a potential, that just because we can do something digitally, there is a temptation and a real danger that sometimes we kind of pull out that human element, that human connection to it. So, we’ve got to be really careful to not do that. And then the other piece is really around the sense of maybe using some education, from a sales standpoint. And you know, a lot of us are dealing with distributors or a dealer network of some sort. And so, really being able to provide them from a branding standpoint, from a material standpoint, from an education piece to provide more value. And to be able to facilitate that sale a little bit more, because like Eric was mentioning; for their product, when they can really get a customer, or a prospect, or a lead, whatever you want to call them, into one of their products, into their aircraft and get the feel for it and have that experience that it’s like ‘ah’ they make this connection. So be thinking of those ways of how to use digital means to help facilitate that and be able to create that. But not completely replace that. So anyways, that’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for watching. If you have any questions, we can answer them for you on industrialsage.com/questions. If you’re listening to us on iTunes or Stitcher or any of those podcasting apps, we’d love a review. Social media, hey! Share the love. If you’re not on our email list, you need to get on there. We have a lot of great content that you’re not going to hear on the podcast, that you’re not going to see on the website. You have to be in the email list to get it. So do that. Go to industrialsage.com. There’s ample places for you to subscribe. And, man I’m tired. This has been great. Another awesome episode. I’ll see you next week. I’m Danny with IndustrialSage. Thanks for watching.   hbspt.cta.load(192657, 'ee6f69de-cfd0-4b78-8310-8bdf983bdcc9', {});   Thanks for reading. 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