The air-conditioned main salon of an Airbus ACJ 319 is an appropriate place to meet Steve Varsano, founder of the Jet Business. Upholstered in fine leather with a cream coloured carpet contrasting with dark wood accents, it is a comfortable and business-like environment. The surprise is that we’re talking not at 37,000 feet but 50 yards from London’s Hyde Park Corner.
Scroll to the bottom to take a sneak peak around the Jet Business’ Showroom with our video walkthrough.
The Jet Business, which opened late last year, is the world’s first storefront space for buying a super-mid-size executive jet, though the word ‘storefront’ doesn’t do it any sort of justice: it is, in truth, the most interactive and immersive retail experience you’re ever likely to come across. There is certainly an air of novelty and drama about the place, with the life-size mock-up of the Airbus cabin a good talking point. “Actually, it’s a great place to meet clients and just shoot the breeze,” says Steve. Indeed, beyond the Jet Business’s stylish surface lies a solid technological and practical foundation. Screened off from the main reception area with darkened glass is a raised bank of monitors. It’s more like a currency trading floor than a jet brokers. Members of the Jet Business team sit at cockpit-like workstations, inputting changes in data or working the phones.
What they are doing is monitoring the global market for changes in the used jet fleet, as well as updating the Jet Business’s unique database of jets for sale. It is, Steve says, the most up-to-date and reliable global picture available to clients. As a potential client, you experience all of this data onsite through a bespoke iPad app. You can search by any number of parameters, drilling down into very detailed data on each aircraft (“clients usually leave that to their pilots”, says Steve). All of this data can be displayed on wall monitors, and you can even see life-size graphics of a particular model’s cabin, so a client can stand against it to get a sense of the headroom and space between furniture.
So why create the Jet Business? “I started in this business 30 years ago, and in contrast to how most brokers operated I made it a point to see all my clients face to face. As they were mostly in the US it was easy – 75% of the jets produced were sold into the US. Now the landscape has changed. These days, 60% are sold outside with people coming into the market from Russia, Nigeria, South Africa and China. This makes it more difficult to fly everywhere to see every client. I came up with a crazy idea to get people to see me – the first street-front store to buy corporate jets. Most people said I was nuts. ‘What oligarch, head of state or celebrity would come to see you in a shop?’, they said.” In fact, visitors don’t need to go through the public area; they can enter a secure side door to a discreet room that offers the same interactive experience.
“London became my preferred choice. I needed somewhere that had access to all the global markets. In the early morning we can work the Asian markets, the CIS countries come on stream during the day, and the US in the evening. Plenty of people come through Central London, and the vast majority of them will drive around Hyde Park Corner at some point. This is the perfect spot,” says Steve.
“But as well as the location, I needed three things that would attract clients. Firstly, the environment had to be executive style. Second, the technology had to be advanced though easy for clients to use. Thirdly, the information had to be current.”
The environment, styled by Argent Design and Design Q, is certainly that, and the information is kept up to date by the team in the ‘trading room’. The technology took time to develop – the gestation of the project was four years – but it works seamlessly. It allows the owner to search the whole market, and create a shortlist. “It’s about empowering buyers to make the buying decision,” says Steve. “You just have to tell us what you want.” It’s as simple as inputting your parameters into the app by age, budget, range, number of passengers and other preferences.
The early signs are positive, with the number of visitors exceeding expectations. “There is not much I would change. It works well. The reaction has been great,” says Steve. “When I pulled the trigger to go forward, it would either work or it wouldn’t, and I have been amazed. I’ve met more owners of jets in the past three months than I have in the past three years. We’re getting great word-of-mouth recommends. We’re building the first brand in the pre-owned aircraft sales business. Every three years an owner trades, so it’s a case of getting them in the cycle.”
With all the global prices available easily though the Jet Business’s app, there is much transparency in the process. Steve also represents clients wanting to order a new jet. “Some clients only want to buy new. Others want to buy pre-owned because they don’t want to take the depreciation. We can go to the manufacturer and negotiate on behalf of a client, but about 80 per cent of our business is pre-owned,” says Steve.
So would a similar app work with yachts? “It’s much more difficult,” Steve points out. “Most aircraft are basically the same and you don’t get the widespread customisation. Everything is different in a yacht. As a buyer, it either hits you or it doesn’t. And he laughs: “Ten percent brokers’ commission? We never see that in jets! We’re so jealous of the yacht brokers because we never see those kind of numbers.”
Steve spends his summer weekends in the South of France living on board. “My better half’s brothers own yachts in the South of France – a 50-metre and a 36-metre – and I’m very fortunate to be able to spend time aboard them. I’ve cruised in the Bahamas and St Barths. I’ve also chartered a lot. I love being on board, it’s just the best way to relax. The craziness is all on the land! You’re really spending valuable face-time with your favourite people,” he says.
“At the end of the day,” says Steve, “A jet is a tool not a toy. It’s a time machine that allows you to optimise your working day.” But never has buying a tool been so much fun.
Watch the video below to see behind the scenes: