By S. Clayton Moore
Since he left advertising for airplanes more than 25 years ago, John Forehand has put a lot of sweat and tears into the aircraft sales business. His hard work has paid off; he now manages Arizona Piper, which has become one of the best-selling New Piper Aircraft factory distributors in the country.
Keystone Aviation, LLC, of Salt Lake City, owns the company. Forehand reports to management at Intermountain Air, another subsidiary of Keystone Aviation. Together, the two Piper distributorships account for much of the Piper sales in the Western United States. Intermountain handles Utah, western Wyoming, Idaho and Washington, while Piper Arizona has the Arizona operation and has recently received a temporary contract to sell Pipers in Oregon and Alaska as well.
“It’s like out of the frying pan and into the freezer,” Forehand laughs at his good fortune. “We’re open for business. As soon as we get our permanent contract, we’ll be opening up an operation in the Northwest.”
He says “we,” but Arizona Piper is strictly a one-man shop at this point. While he opened the distributorship in April 2001, the burden of 9/11 in the aviation industry put a dent in his initial business. However, Forehand has been demonstrating what idealism and determination can do in the last year, becoming one of the top Piper salesmen for last year.
“This one-state operation has become the largest one-state distributor for Piper Aircraft in the United States,” Forehand affirms. “We sold 13 new airplanes and 12 used airplanes last year for a total of 25 aircraft just out of Arizona.”
That made him the number two aircraft salesman in the country, beaten by only one plane by salesman Rick Zimpher, of Southeast Piper in Florida, a friend of Forehand’s. It’s quite an accomplishment and evidence that Forehand has learned his trade well over a lifetime of aviation enthusiasm.
Like many of his contemporaries, Forehand started building model airplanes as a child, later graduating to the real thing when he started taking flying lessons in 1961. He soon ran out of money for lessons, though, and it took him another eight years on and off to get his ticket. Along the way, he stumbled into a lucrative career in advertising that ended in 1979 when he flew to Vancouver to pitch to the Piper distributorship at the time.
“They offered me a job,” Forehand remembered. “I flew back to Spokane, chucked 15 years of experience in advertising and went off to play with airplanes.”
Over the next two decades, Forehand sold Pipers and Cessnas for different companies all over the country. In the early 1980s at Casper Air Service in Wyoming, Forehand and another sales professional managed to sell 47 Cessnas in a single year in a state with a population of just 450,000. However, he had concerns about the way business was done at the time.
“It was very cutthroat,” he remembered. “We sold into everybody’s backyard. You had little or no money being made by the dealers and when the dealers don’t make any money, then the level of service goes down. The dealer’s warranty work goes down. The customers get very unhappy when the warranty work suffers, and when they’re unhappy, you don’t get repeat sales.”
Disappointed by the Cessna organization at the time, Forehand made his way to Florida where he managed the Aircraft Inventory Center, later to be known at the Aircraft Dealers Network.
“In the days prior to the Internet, it was the dealer communication organization, and was the only way outside the telephone to see what was for sale,” Forehand explained. “It was also one of the first to go online in 1991, but when the Internet hit around 1993, everybody was able to see every airplane out there and it knocked the market out from underneath us.”
Unfazed by the snag, Forehand formed the Professional Aircraft Sales Association in the early 1990s in an attempt to infuse the industry with his ideas on ethics.
“I’m extremely strong on ethics,” Forehand affirmed. “In this business, your reputation is all you have to sell. If you don’t have a strong ethical basis in your life, you’re not going to go far in this business. This world is too small. I always come back to the old idea that honesty is the best policy and you can’t be anything but totally honest in this business and get ahead.”
Along the way, he got together with Ed Sieb, an advertising executive with Million Air, a Part 135 charter company in Salt Lake City also owned by Keystone Aviation, to write a book on aircraft sales.
“I wrote what was and is known as the Professional Aircraft Sales Guide,” Forehand said. “It was basically a summation of my feelings about the ethical side of this business. It wasn’t about how to sell airplanes, but how to set up and put together an aircraft sales organization.”
The book was a success, selling at $300 apiece and later turned by the two partners into a successful three-day seminar run out of Oklahoma City. In fact, Forehand continues to see its impact today. When he recently helped Aurora Aviation in Oregon set up their dealership, he found the company’s owner had the book sitting in his office.
Today, Arizona Piper occupies the same building at Scottsdale Airport formerly occupied by a Piper distributor showroom in the 1970s before being abandoned during the 1980s. Forehand’s presence represents the company’s return to the market with a successful, permanent sales presence.
In late 2003, Flightcraft didn’t renew their contract as the Piper distributor in the Pacific Northwest and Forehand jumped at the chance. He expects a permanent contract to be completed soon.
He still sells airplanes on the strong ethical basis that has been the cornerstone of his career. He admits that he loses money on warranty, but feels it’s part of customer service.
“The factory just doesn’t pay for everything,” Forehand admitted. “They don’t pay enough for troubleshooting. There are things that aren’t covered, but of curse we’re going to cover those things if they come up. If a light burns out, I’m not going to go to my customer and tell them they have to eat a $300 bulb. You have to take care of the customer.”
He also won’t jump customers who rightfully belong to other sales territories.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Forehand said of the practice. “I won’t even sell to a guy with a second home in Arizona unless he lives here a majority of the time. Then he’s my customer and there’s no question about it, but if he lives 60 percent of the time in California, he’s their customer because they’re going to be paying for the warranty and they should make the sale.”
However, he explained that his ethical responsibilities support his sales organization.
“It’s not totally altruistic on my part,” Forehand explained. “If I treat the customer right and send him to someone else who treats him right, who is he going to come to when he does become a resident of Arizona or Oregon or Alaska? He’s going to come to me because he knows I treated him right in the first place. It’s good for the customer and good for Piper and good for me.”
Forehand also credits his success to a very personal relationship with all of his customers.
“Someone once told me that I sell on friendship and I think he was right,” Forehand said. “When a customer feels they’re as important to you as making the sale, I think people feel it. My customers are my friends and that’s the truth.”
Arizona Piper is located at 15115 North Airport Drive. For more information, contact John Forehand at 1-866-297-4737 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full listing of aircraft for sale, visit [http://www.arizonapiper.com].