Andy Nixon, founder of MRO Insider says their online portal is an easy to use resource for sending your aircraft maintenance/upgrades needs out for quote to multiple facilities at once. Wait a short while and multiple sources could come back with their quote saving much leg work and time.
Then, with quotes in easy-to-compare format, it is simple to weigh the different options available. Nixon says it is imperative that technicians and management be able to compare hard data between quotes and MRO Insider allows this to happen. Service providers pay a subscription fee to have access to the requests for bid.
“Owner/operators can select the aircraft in their fleet, choose which service is needed, specify a timeframe, and can send equipment lists, maintenance tracking documents or photos,” says Nixon. Once submitted, service facilities subscribed to the MRO Insider network are notified of an RFQ (request for quote). They log in and can either request additional information from the owner/operator or submit a quote. Each maintenance facility has a profile page with photos and customer reviews with the main goal of the website being to improve transparency and efficiency in the maintenance quoting process for aircraft owner/operators.
The company launched in 2017 and has grown quickly since then. In February the company announced the registration of more than 500 corporate aircraft on their maintenance quoting marketplace. Think of it like Amazon, where you can search for a particular product and look at numerous options before purchasing, from new to all levels of used and from multiple vendors. Rather than having to make multiple calls to numerous shops to price compare yourself, wait for return calls, ensure work-scopes are the same and then decide, MRO Insider says it does all this with the click of the return key, once the parameters of your job are entered into the request for quote (RFQ).
With quotes in hand, users can follow up with individual companies with further questions. Nixon says the process brings pilots, owners, operators, and MRO providers together and will improve the customer experience.
Nixon, from Michigan, comes from an aviation family. From his great grandfather, to his grandfather – with whom he still flies today – to his cousin who started a kit plane company, it seemed inevitable that he would end up in aviation. He was always more interested in the business side of the industry and says he came up with the idea when he was the director of sales and marketing for Toledo jet. “Basically the whole driving force was, I was quoting work. I was going out and seeing these customers in our area. And I was just getting pummeled with marketing because we didn’t really have a budget. I mean, people were flying over our head to Cleveland!”
The idea he had was to keep smaller facilities who may be better able to service specific needs at an affordable price, “stage front.” “And so that’s how it came about. It is just a way for [them] to get exposure and get a look at customers that we’re driving to the website or the app, that they might not normally be able to reach,” Nixon says. “And, I thought it’d be cool to start my own business,” he laughed at the naivety of the thought, now that he has the work of three years behind him.
“The larger companies, they have 40 salespeople running around. We’re after the people that, you know, have two salespeople that can’t always be out and about,” Nixon says. “The smaller shops sometimes have the ability with personnel and tooling to complete the jobs and their work quality is excellent, but they don’t have any kind of a marketing team and so they’re losing out jobs,” Bischoff says. Bischoff adds, “I think that’s one thing that we’re really providing to shops, is that when they have the capabilities, but they don’t have the front end stuff like a large marketing team, we’re able to help them get those customers. And those customers may even be closer than somebody else they’ve used and they may never have even heard of them.”
In the beginning the company focused on scheduled maintenance. “That was kind of our core business,” Nixon says. The website was basic and didn’t even have hard coding Nixon says. But customers and industry mentors helped the company hone their product. Customers told them they didn’t even have to email and call. “People asked us, ‘Can you just make it ping out to people that are in the area?’ We said sure! That’s the basis of our app for AOG and detailing and parts, is that it’ll broadcast out to anybody in a 300 mile radius,” he says. “Users put in a description and boom, there it goes. So we let the market determine what’s priced, basically. We just released a messaging feature in it too, so both parties can communicate kind of like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, back and forth with each other. And then at that point, we pretty much step out.” They then ask for a review at the end, again similar to an Amazon review.
Nixon says they keep the process simple and on the up and up. “We don’t do finder’s fees, we don’t do kickbacks, we don’t share customer data. So that’s what really separates us from our competitors.” He adds that they refuse to give out the information which he says “drives a shops nuts. They don’t even have to put in tail number – they put in nicknames because sometimes bigger companies just don’t want people to know who it is [making the RFQ],” Nixon says.
“We really pushed to mobile because everything is going that way. We stripped down from the website and made the app really user friendly,” says Perri Bischoff, director of marketing. “It’s simple. It’s got an easy user interface. We took a lot of feedback from not only shops, and owners and operators, but even other people about what they liked and disliked about apps within other industries. What made them work? What kept them going back to it and using it? And so the app was developed with two years-worth of feedback off the website.”
Some of the feedback the company was getting was about the time spent just chatting with sales people from service providers. “Probably the biggest thing that we hear is, you know, ‘I need this quote, I’ve got six airplanes I’m managing. And the guy wants to tell me about his fishing trip for 45 minutes! And then I don’t get the quote. I’ve got to follow up with them,’” he relays. Operators were saying they couldn’t get quotes the same day and there was a lot of wheel-spinning. “I was dumbfounded that all salesmen didn’t respond the same day and get things done as quickly as possible. And so that was our biggest surprise,” Nixon says and where they focus – getting the answers quickly.
A relatively new use just came up. The scenario was a Citation 10 operator needed to replace or check something on the vertical stabilizer. They needed a scissor lift to do a job. “They did not have a way to get up there. So they pinged out via our app that they were looking for a scissor lift in Austin, at the airport there and they were able to rent it from a 135 operator actually that’s on the field. They don’t do outside maintenance, but they were willing to run it out to them to use it,” Nixon explains. “So that’s just that whole peer-to-peer building this community and trying to help out the operators well as the providers, as much as we can.” After that first success, the company says they will expand this capability.
The company also hopes to add a type of virtual DOM to the service at some point in the future. “We’re going to be doing and ask an expert- type, virtual DOM kind of a thing. Basically, if somebody is AOG or has a question, whether it’s a big time DOM or it’s a part 91 guy that has a chief pilot handling stuff, they can message and reach out to these experts that we’ll have loaded on the app with their picture and description of what air frames are comfortable with,” Nixon explains. “We’re going to be a go to source. You can whip out your phone and ping them and say, Hey, I have this giant inspection coming up on my aircraft. “Is there anything I need to look for, can you help me manage the project? Can you check the invoice when it’s done, all of that stuff will then be available here shortly at their fingertips.”
Asked if the pandemic has impacted their business, Nixon says no. “We’re still a startup company, but we’re up 43 percent from this time last year. So, we’ve had a big increase. And then with the app coming out, we’ve seen business go up. One of our bigger operators, their business went up as a result of COVID. They never stopped flying and they actually increased the number of aircraft they were managing. And so we have had nothing but positive stuff so far happened,” Nixon says.
Nixon is especially pleased when he can help put someone “on the map” as he calls it. For example, he mentioned a small facility in Dallas whose customers rave about them. [The owner] used to work for Bombardier and went off on his own. He does Learjet stuff. His customers rave about him: honest, transparent. But he’s got to get his name and his brand out there. We just got him signed up last week. And so we like discovering those shops,” Nixon says.
The company is also committed to some social issues like encouraging young people to get involved in aviation, potentially working with inmates at local prisons and they have begun a carbon offset tree planting program. They have some property in Northern Michigan a source for ordering oak trees. “Every single RFQ that goes through our website we add to our list of tree planting. This fall we’re going to do a company retreat and we’re all going go plant the trees. At some point we would like to include some of our other shops or operators that want to be a part of that. I think we’re the only people that are hands-on doing something like that in business aviation,” Nixon says.
Nixon feels their only competition is the old mind set of doing things the same old way. “We are definitely competing against the old way of doing things. But, everything is going digital and mobile. And we’re not going to see that go away obviously now, especially with the pandemic,” he believes. He says the pandemic has accelerated the trend.
The company says they don’t want to do away with the relationship aspect of the business, however. “We’re like the conduit to accelerate people’s relationships. We’re not trying to completely replace it. We’re just helping you get there faster,” says Bischoff. This relationship aspect is the impetus for MRO Insider to partner with Wyvern to offer a Q SMS program to smaller shops. “It will be another way for us to validate who’s on our network,” Nixon says of the process. They are working with their first client on this partnership to establish an affordable audit program designed for those smaller shops. “One of our big goals is that everybody will be on this Q SMS. We want everybody to know that if you come to MRO Insider, this is what it is like, it’s a boutique of these vetted shops with top-notch people,” Nixon says.