It was called the Aircraft Spruce Annual West Coast Super Sale and Fly-In, and it was definitely a different kind of marketing event. Jim Irwin, CEO of Aircraft Spruce and Specialty, has always had a flair for the unusual and, he reasoned, why not have an end-of-season, corporate-sponsored Southern California fly-in dedicated specifically to the world's largest market of general aviation pilots?
This isn't the first get-together at the company's Corona, Calif., headquarters. Irwin has been sponsoring regional fly-ins for several years, erecting a large circus-style tent right outside the main entrance and inviting a variety of vendors and exhibitors to display their products under the canopy.
This year, there were displays by Garmin, Concorde Batteries, Lightspeed, Scheyden, Dynon, Sennheiser, Tempest Aviation, Bose, Mid-Continent Instruments, Gill Electric, Skytronics, Pilot USA and a number of others. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a mini Oshkosh, with seminars on avionics and safety, and opportunities for hands-on experience with aviation products.
Just to keep things interesting, Irwin arranged hourly raffle drawings for items such as Sennheiser and Lightspeed headsets, Dynon portable PFDs and other pilot goodies. All proceeds were donated to the EAA's Young Eagle program.
In conjunction with the fly-in, Aircraft Spruce also offered a variety of specials on products for pilots, including marked-down prices and discounts. The company ran regular shuttles back and forth to nearby Corona Airport, a half-mile north, to accommodate fly-in traffic. The shuttle service wasn't a once-a-year feature. Aircraft Spruce offers the same service on weekends all year round.
In fact, the company has its roots in the Los Angeles area. The original Aircraft Spruce was started by Irwin's parents, Bob and Flo Irwin, in the mid-'50s as Fullerton Air Parts, directly across the street from Fullerton Airport in the Los Angeles area. The only initial product was homebuilt aircraft materials, primarily high-quality wood, but eventually, the Irwins expanded, moved to larger facilities in Fullerton and renamed the company Aircraft Spruce And Specialty. The Irwins' eldest son, Jim, took over the company and became president in 1980.
Today, Aircraft Spruce And Specialty has become well established in its permanent home in Corona. The company is a multinational retailer with additional stores in Peachtree City, Ga., and Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Aircraft Spruce sells plans and parts for 70 of the most popular homebuilt aircraft designs plus components for production aircraft and a variety of peripheral products, such as aviation clothing, charts and accessories.
"We've been holding the fly-ins for about nine years, and we always have a great turnout," Irwin commented. "It's become more than just a vehicle for sales. We've made plenty of friends in he business, and our fly-in weekend sale has become something of an event in Southern California. This year, we had something like 400 people browsing through the outside and inside displays. It's a chance for us to meet new customers and encourage those who've been thinking about coming to see us but just needed a little more incentive.
"We have some kind of a major sale every year at all three locations, usually in conjunction with an Airport Day. That didn't work out with Corona's Airportfest this year, but we still held the event as our Customer Appreciation Day," said Irwin. "We're hoping to put the two together again next year."
Irwin explains that he tries to offer price reductions during the show. "We lower prices on practically everything we sell, and even arrange with the manufacturers to offer rebate programs on some items that are sold on a fixed-price basis." Aircraft Spruce has earned a reputation as a one-stop shop in all three of its locations, and that's especially true during the annual West Coast Super Sale and Fly-In. It has taken on the image of a kind of aviation super-store.
Because of his success, Irwin has found ways to give back to the aviation community. He's a regular supporter of the annual Oshkosh AirVenture, sponsoring the Great Cross Country Air Race, the Young Eagles Program and the Aircraft Spruce Design Competition. In 1995, he was presented with the President's Award For Outstanding Service to Sport Aviation by EAA president Tom Poberezny. Irwin is an active multi-engine instrument pilot with 4,000 hours in a variety of aircraft, most recently, his Blackhawk-conversion Cessna 425 Conquest 1.