Industry Profile series are a series of articles intended
to give our members a look inside the companies that produce
the products that they use everyday. This series is not intended
as ads for the company being profiled, but rather it's targeted
to show what makes these companies "tick". If you
have any questions about this article, or would like to suggest
a company to be covered, please send me an email.
everybody else, I like to eat hot dogs. But there's an old saying
that says that after you find out how hot dogs are made you probably
won't want to eat them any longer. As I set out to start this series
of articles that thought came to mind more than once. I wondered
that once I started to "peak behind the curtain" of some
of the companies that provide us with the planes, equipment, accessories,
and others that we all use in this hobby I was afraid that I might
not like what I found. But I really didn't worry "too"
much about it and set out to start looking at the companies in the
RC Industry. The first company that we will be doing in our Profile
Series is Aeroworks. So let's dive right in and take a look at what
makes Aeroworks "tick" as a company that provides high
quality airplanes and accessories for all of us.
Aeroworks has been in business for a bit over the last 20 years,
and in that time they have grown to be one of the best manufacturers
of high quality ARF's. Many of the planes that they produce are
considered to be some of the best flying planes out there. One
thing that I've found in my time in this hobby is that many of
Aeroworks customers are fiercely loyal to the company and usually
have more than just one airplane from the company. The reason
for that kind of customer loyalty is a direct result of the company
mindset at Aeroworks. The company's founder Rocco Mariani maintain
customer satisfaction as one the most important things that they
do, and everything he does in guiding the company comes from that
ethos. Rocco and his wife Sandy operate the company, along with
a staff of 9, in the Denver, Colorado area. Located near the Denver
Aeroworks is housed in what is a standard commercial/industrial
district, the likes of which can be found in most large cities.
In the back of my mind I think I expected to see a business where
everybody was out back flying airplanes all day long, so when
I pulled up to Aeroworks I was a bit disappointed I guess. Other
than a small sign out front with the company name on it, there
are no other signs that one of the better businesses in the industry
was housed in the building. After getting over the lack of nobody
flying planes out back, I parked my rental car and headed on inside
to meet with Rocco. Once I got inside though, any disappointment
over the lack of looking like a "RC Company" was gone.
As I got inside I entered into the main waiting room which also
housed display cases and shelves used to sell most all of the
small parts and accessories that Aeroworks sells. Also in the
waiting area were planes proudly displayed on the walls, and a
huge P-51 sat on the ground next to the chairs in the waiting
area. Oh yeah baby, it was clear now that I was in a company in
the RC Industry!
Rocco & Sandi Mariani, and the staff of Aeroworks
Parts and accessories on sale in Aerowork's office.
Some of Aeroworks planes displayed on the walls of the main office.
spending a little time in the showroom area Rocco continued the
tour and took me back to the warehouse. Aeroworks has 20,000 sq.
storage area and most of that area was stocked from floor to almost
the ceiling with boxes, parts, and accessories. Rocco explained
to me that Aeroworks feels that's it's very important to have as
many of their planes in stock whenever possible. Many of you know
how things go with some companies that they have a large line-up
of airplanes only to always be out of stock of these planes, Rocco
and his crew try to avoid that whenever possible. They do realize
that it's not possible to have everything in stock all the time,
but they do their best to keep as many planes in stock whenever
possible. This fact becomes even more impressive when you look at
the Aeroworks line-up of airplanes. With the exception of the true
builder kits that Aeroworks started out with, every ARF-Quick Build
plane that they have ever produced is still in their active line-up
and they continue to produce these planes. This is a huge indication
of just how successful Aeroworks is in that all of the planes ever
designed by them are still in demand with their customers. Rocco
mentioned that many of their customers have been with them for years
and years and are very loyal. Some will continue to buy the same
plane over and over again as it wears out or crashes, while others
simply are working their way through the Aeroworks catalog of planes
as they continue to try different planes. In addition to all of
the planes stocked in the warehouse they also stock the accessories
and parts needed for all the Aeroworks planes.
Aeroworks shipping department
Aeroworks shelves filled with planes
Rows and rows of shelves filled with planes
Empty shelves waiting for a new shipment of planes to arrive
It's hard to have a conversation with a company that produces RC
aircraft without talking about the topic of China, and the production
of aircraft there. Many people think that most, if not all, planes
produced in China are going to be low quality (translate to cheap).
Sitting with Rocco I brought up this subject. Rocco's answer was
pretty simple: the factories in China are going to produce exactly
what you ask them to produce. If you want them to produce a low
cost and low quality airplane then that's exactly what you will
get. But on the other hand, if you contract a factory to produce
high quality planes and accessories then that is what you are going
to get. And that is what Aeroworks does. Rocco makes many trips
to China every year so that he can be involved with every aspect
of the production process to ensure that he is getting the quality
that he pays for and also demands. And it's a never ending process
according to Rocco. Many times a factory will produce a high quality
prototype but when it comes time to make a production run a factory
will take shortcuts that reduce the quality of the final product.
So quality assurance is never ending for Aeroworks. They constantly
check the production of their planes to ensure that the same quality
that they designed into the plane is being produced. And the design
of a plane also has a lot to do with the ability of a factory to
produce a good airframe. The team at Aeroworks will first design
an airplane and then take it to the factory for a prototype run
to see if the factory can reproduce the plane as designed. If the
factory can't make a plane perfect 99 times out of 100 then the
team goes back to the R&D and find ways of changing the design
so that the factory can produce it. This process goes back and forth
many times until they can assure that what Aeroworks wants built
in fact does get produced at the factory. As Rocco pointed out,
the factory is going to produce exactly what they are asked to do.
And when it comes to Aeroworks they strive to keep a factory that
can produce what they want. Another factor that goes into this puzzle
is keeping the factory busy. Since Aeroworks is still producing
all the planes that they have ever designed it's a sure bet that
their factory in China is kept busy constantly producing airplanes.
This is a key factor to Aeroworks success.
Parts is part is parts. What may seem like a simple matter of parts
is actually a huge part of the Aeroworks operation. Rocco readily
admits that one sure way to turn off customers is to not have the
parts that are needed. Let's face it, we all have dinged up a plane
from time to time. It's a simple part of flying that none of us
can avoid. And when that plane is damaged most of us need to get
it repaired and back in the air quickly. And this usually leads
to a call to Aeroworks asking for replacement parts. And when that
happens you can make a pretty safe bet that Aeroworks is going to
have that part on hand. When Rocco and the Aeroworks team sends
to the factory to produce a run of planes they also order a number
of replacement parts as. Rocco is fully aware that this is a gamble
in that he is ordering parts that may very well never sell. But
for him it's a bet he is willing to take because he would rather
have parts on the shelf and not have a need for them than to have
a customer call up needing a part and not having it on the shelf.
This is a core value for Aeroworks that many of their customers
think is a huge selling value for the company. I asked Rocco if
they couldn't just take the part out of an existing kit if they
didn't have the replacement on the shelf. He said that they could
do that, but they try to avoid it if at all possible. One of the
biggest reasons is that it's a slippery slope that leads to problems
down the road and they would rather avoid it if they can. For instance,
a call comes in for a part and since they don't have one in stock
the shipping department simply opens up a kit and gets the part.
Now he knows that later on down the road he needs to replace that
part in the kit, but in the real world things get busy and for whatever
reason that kit winds up back in inventory without the replacement
in the box. And then it's a sure bet that the kit will be sold to
a customer who is going to be very upset when he opens up his new
plane box only to find a major component of that plane is missing.
Now he's got to go back to Aeroworks to get the replacement, which
is going to cost Aeroworks both money in shipping out a replacement
part and also lost money in that they now have a possibly dissatisfied
customer. And because of this Aeroworks tries to avoid robbing kits
for parts. And in the end if they are robbing a part it costs them
more because now they have an entire kit that they can't sell. For
Aeroworks, they find it much easier to simply stock in enough parts
to meet the demand that they might have. And with 20 years of experience
under their belts they've got a pretty good feel for how many parts
that they are going to need when they produce a plane.
Spare parts line the shelves.
More parts stock an entire isle of the warehouse.
Parts and accessories are kept on hand for easy access in the shipping
A larger view of the shipping area shows parts and accessories stored
in the area.
With the talk of production of airplanes and stocking in parts this
got me to thinking about the process of bringing a plane to market,
and the costs involved. Most people simply aren't aware of what
it actually costs to bring a plane from concept to sitting on the
shelf ready to sell to the public. When I asked Rocco about this
he stopped for a second to think about it and then looked me straight
in the eyes and said that it can take anywhere between $150,000
- $300,000 to design, prototype, test, redesign, improve, document,
and finally produce a plane for sale. At first I thought he was
kidding about the cost, but after he explained it to me I can easily
see just why it costs so much for a plane to be produced. The initial
phase of course is the design and prototyping of the plane. After
a plane goes from concept to being on paper they will first cut
the parts by hand to build the first planes for testing. They will
cut, build, and then fly the planes in their initial testing phase.
From there they will make changes they find are needed and
start all over again in building and flying their test aircraft.
Once they have a plane to where they think it's ready the plane
then needs to be designed for production. At this phase they take
the design to the factory to build prototypes of the design. These
come back to Aeroworks where they will evaluate the construction,
production, and then they build the plane. From there they make
changes to the design, which of course require the design to go
back to the factory for another prototype run. As we said earlier,
they will often change a design to make it easier to produce if
they find that the factory can't maintain quality throughout the
production process. When they have the design ready for production
they first bring it back to Aeroworks where they then build the
plane in order to write the assembly manual for the plane, as well
as take pictures and video for the manual and for promotional materials
on the plane. They also need to design the box that the plane will
ship in, which is done here as well. Once they have all this the
plane can FINALLY go back for production. The improvement of a plane
design is never ending for Aeroworks. In fact, when I saw Aeroworks
in Toledo this year they had a prototype of a plane they are currently
in the process of designing. Now just two months later Rocco told
me that they have over 300 changes that they are making to that
design before the plane goes to production. The process of designing
a plane can take anywhere from 6-8 months up to 2 years to take
a plane from design to full production. And even when a plane is
in production the improvement of that plane doesn't stop. Many times
Aeroworks will take feedback from the people flying the plane after
they buy them and make improvements to the design of that plane,
which they will often incorporate in future production runs of that
plane. It's a never ending process of improvement that makes Aeroworks
an industry leader producing quality airplanes that pilots love
we were in the main office part of Aeroworks I noticed that Rocco's
office wasn't there. When I asked him where his office was, his
answer was a simple "It's out back." Now I'm going to
date myself with this next statement, but when I was growing up
one of my favorite TV shows was "WKRP In Cincinnati."
One of the characters on the show was Les Nessman, who was the news
reporter for the WKRP radio station. Les didn't have an office,
but rather had a desk out it the "bull pen" with everybody
else. But Les felt that he should have an office. So what he did
was put down tape on the floor around his desk representing what
should be his walls, and he asked everybody at the station to "act"
like there were actually walls in place. When I walked out to see
Rocco's office the image of Les Nessman and his "walls"
was the first thing that came to mind. Rocco's desk is located out
in the warehouse next to the area that they do their R&D. When
I asked Rocco why he had his desk out in the warehouse his answer
was simple, "I like to be out here so that I have a better
connection to what we are doing in our development of new planes."
He explained that this is one of the most important parts of what
they do in developing new planes, and improving existing planes,
so he felt that having his desk out in the R&D area keeps him
more connected to what's going on. After spending some time with
Rocco it's clear to see that he is deeply committed to providing
his customers with high quality planes, parts, and accessories.
This is easily one of the biggest reasons why Aeroworks is such
a success and is an industry leader.
I sat down with Rocco at Aeroworks it was far from the first time
I had met him. Having spent the last few years covering events for
RCU I have met Rocco at events such as the Toledo RC Expo and Warbirds
Over the Rockies many times in the past. I asked Rocco how important
attending these events are for him, and his answer that it is very
important for him and the Team at Aeroworks. Besides just getting
out of the warehouse occasionally he indicated to me that going
to these events was important because it gives him a chance to spend
time with the people that are flying Aeroworks planes. And this
is heart and soul of what is important to Aeroworks. They are here
to serve the pilots of this hobby, so getting to talk to them and
see what they are looking for in airplanes gives Rocco and his staff
a good feel for where the hobby is, and where it's going. At these
events I've seen Rocco spend 20-30 minutes talking to just one customer,
and you can tell by watching him that he truly enjoys the time that
he spent with that customer. With 20 years under his belt it's a
pretty safe bet that Rocco has hit on a recipe for success and for
giving the customer what they want, and face to face time with his
customers is a big part of this. If you have a chance to get to
any of these events get on over t0 the Aeroworks booth and spend
some time with Rocco or his staff and you'll see just how serious
they about taking care of their customers.
I can take up a lot of space here typing up
what I learned from visiting with Rocco and his Aeroworks staff, but
they say a picture is worth a thousand words. And if a picture is
worth a thousand words, then video must be worth at least 10,000 words.
So I won't take up more space here typing all this up, but rather
let you spend some time getting the info straight from the source.
Please check out the video of my visit with Aeroworks, and I hope
that you enjoy the interview.