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Business aircraft work hard for heavy equipment dealers

Industry leaders explain the long-term benefits of ownership

For heavy equipment distributors, business happens in many places – at branch stores, manufacturers’ factories, equipment demonstrations, customers’ offices, industry meetings and training sessions. Bridging the hundreds of miles between them, often in the same day and from locations not readily serviced by airlines, poses huge challenges.

To avoid the unproductive down time that comes from driving or flying commercially, Stowers Machinery Corporation and Berry Companies have operated business aircraft for 55 and 60 years, respectively. Their founders realized the benefits early, giving each company an edge that has led to significant growth, as well as long-term stability and success.

Why business aircraft work for heavy equipment distributors:

  • Saves time, allows for same-day turnaround
  • Provides scheduling flexibility
  • More face-to-face time with customers
  • More cost effective than airlines, especially with a larger group
  • Schedule control

Stowers Machinery Corporation

Knoxville, Tennessee

Since opening its doors in 1960, Stowers Machinery Corporation has always owned and operated aircraft – starting with a Cessna® 170. With their heavy machinery dealership based in Knoxville, Tennessee, the three Stowers brothers needed to visit manufacturers’ factories in neighboring states. Driving meant long hours traveling back roads and overnight stays in motels. With their single-engine piston aircraft, the entrepreneurs were able fly into small towns quickly and easily to reach factories, remote job sites and customers.

"Aircraft have been a part of our business since the beginning. Two of my uncles were pilots," said Wes Stowers, president.

"In the old days, travel was a lot more difficult, far more so than today. We didn’t have the interstates back then. But, with the little airplane, they could just get in and go."

Stowers Machinery Corporation owns two aircraft, including this Cessna Citation CJ3 for long-range trips.

Today, Stowers Machinery has grown to 355 employees. It sells and services heavy equipment, from large construction and mining machines to small, compact construction equipment, such as skid-steer loaders and mini excavators, in Tennessee’s eastern 38 counties. It also sells a broad line of diesel and natural gas-powered generators and operates a full-service rental division. In addition to being a Caterpillar dealer, Stowers represents Screen Machine, Bandit, GOMACO, Genie, Finn, Sullair, BBA Pumps, Weiler and other product lines.

Aircraft have played such a crucial role in developing and growing the company that Stowers Machinery has owned and operated two aircraft at a time during most of its history. Today, the business operates a Cessna Citation® CJ3® for longer trips and a Beechcraft® Baron® B58 for short hops. The company employs a full-time pilot, and Stowers is a veteran pilot with nearly 9,900 flight hours.

"We primarily use the airplanes to visit factories or equipment demonstrations throughout the eastern U.S., taking four to eight customers or employees. We can pick up our customers at their hometown airports and go directly to a factory, whether it’s in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, Arkansas or Indiana. We can be there in an hour or an hour and 20 minutes," Stowers said. "It saves a whole day of traveling and puts us in total control of the schedule."

Stowers Machinery annual aircraft usage

Cessna Citation CJ3
300 hours

Beechcraft Baron B58
100 hours

"We're in an area with good airline service, but to fly anywhere, we have to go to a hub. It makes airline travel difficult, time consuming and expensive. With our aircraft, there's no two-hour delay before the flight, changing planes, missing bags or going through security," Stowers said. "You go right where you want to go, stay as long as you need to stay and come right back when you're done. It's a lot easier to get a customer to agree to visit factories or machine demonstrations when you can control the transportation. It's also a lot more comfortable."

The aircraft also help employees visit the company’s six stores, attend training sessions and stay active in industry groups.

"A lot of times, we’ll have five, six or seven employees who have to be in another city. It's cost effective and certainly time effective to put them on our airplane," Stowers said.

* Time depends on connecting flights. Time en route does not include 90 minutes to check in and go through security or the delays that are common in connecting cities.

  • Airline
    4 to 7 hours*

  • Citation CJ3
    1 hour 15 minutes

  • Drive
    8 hours 30 minutes
    (one way)

He suggests companies in the market for an aircraft look for the best combination of speed, payload, range and price that fits the company's travel needs.

"Find something that fits your mission," said Stowers, a former fighter pilot for the Air Force. "The CJ3 has been a great airplane for us. It's so fuel-efficient. It burns less fuel in an hour cruising at 40,000 feet than I used to burn in one minute in afterburner in the F-4. It's fast. It has good legs, a great payload and it’s comfortable."

Berry Companies

Wichita, Kansas

Aircraft have been a part of the Berry family business for 70 years. Three generations of pilots have used their passion for aviation to grow their company. It has become a large construction and industrial equipment distributor based in Wichita, Kansas, with 31 locations in six Midwest states.

"I've loved aviation all my life. We’ve always had an airplane – 20 in all over the years. We would not have grown as much or have been as successful without aircraft," said chairman emeritus Fred Berry, who founded the Wichita-based company in 1957.

Fred soloed in a sea plane in 1945 and eventually had instrument and multi-engine ratings.

"We started with a 1948 Cessna 170 at my father’s predecessor company in St. Louis, and my how proud of it we were. We currently fly a Cessna Citation Mustang®, our first jet. We love it even more."

The Berry family of companies spans Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and Wyoming. Fred's son Walter is now president and chief pilot, having flown since high school like his father.

Both men say it is difficult to cover that much territory by driving, and it's not practical to fly commercially. Reaching customers, branch locations, industry meetings and training sessions requires the company to own and operate its own aircraft.

Berry Companies operates 31 locations in six states

"We would not have expanded over the years or picked up business in places like Houston if we had to run back and forth on the airline," Walter said. "We value face time with our key people."

Over the years, Berry Companies has established or acquired seven companies, including those that sell, rent and service Bobcat, Yale and Komatsu equipment, among other manufacturers' brands. Like its customers, Berry's 600 employees are spread out in the 600-mile sales territory. With the Citation Mustang, the typical flight is less than two hours, saving an enormous amount of time.

"We like being able to just get in and go," Walter said. "All that communication and customer interface and time with key employees is critical to growing our business. We work at avoiding the 'ivory tower' syndrome."

"Flying is so much fun. The technical aspect is part of the joy."Fred Berry, chairman emeritus of Berry Companies and former private pilot

As for growing his business, Walter is confident aircraft will continue to be a valuable tool for the company.

"The aircraft helped us grow. As we had opportunities to expand, to open a new store or branch out a little farther away, we used the aircraft to get us there. We wouldn't have been able to reach a lot of those places any other way," he said.

"We went into Colorado early because we could see the growth potential of that state. We've been there since the 1960s. That would have been very difficult and expensive without an aircraft. Whether it's a Cessna 170 or a Citation Mustang, aircraft have been smart tools for us."

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