This is a follow-up to my posting about our attempt to get some Yelp reviews. The reason that we wanted to look good on Yelp is that we were planning to market some helicopter intro lessons via Groupon. We took our standard $225 helicopter into lesson and had Groupon sell it for $69. The fraction that they share with us will cover some of the cost of spinning the helicopter; we instructors will have to volunteer our time in order to try to convert some of these folks into long-term customers. We expected to sell 200 and hoped for 500. We figured that maybe 1-3 percent of these people would sign up as regular students, so we’d put in a few weekends of sweat and come out with 2-10 new students.
Starting just after 6 am, Groupon sent out emails to its roughly 200,000 Boston subscribers. I knew that there might be a problem when I checked a few minutes after receiving my email (I am a subscriber). They’d already sold 30. By 11:00 am, they’d sold more than 2000. We finally had to beg them to shut it down at 2600 (we could have set a limit initially but didn’t think to).
I think what this shows is that we were much worse at marketing than even we could have believed. East Coast Aero Club has been training pilots since 1985 and the owner reports that people almost invariably say “I didn’t know that I could learn to fly here; I thought that Hanscom was only an Air Force base.” Because the phone very seldom rings with new customer inquiries we figured that there was almost no market for helicopter lessons in Boston and not too much for airplanes either (though ECAC is one of the nation’s larger flight schools, with about 30 airplanes). One lesson that I’ve learned from Groupon, though, is that there were probably a lot more potential customers out there than we imagined but they didn’t know we existed.
On the other hand, we probably priced this deal too low. A huge number of customers telephoned the office to ask if they could buy the $69 intro lesson deal directly from us. We tried gently to explain that we weren’t quite sure how we were going to serve 2600 customers and that adding a 2601st would not help. We then offered them the $225 standard intro lesson price, which is already discounted to some extent. Nobody was interested at that price. So unless we can figure out how to sell them 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lessons at $69, perhaps this will be the first and last flight for nearly all of these folks.