Life of a Salesman
Guys who sell airplanes don't always make the deal, but they always have the funniest stories to tell.
- By Mark Huber
- Photographs by Tyson Rininger
- Air & Space magazine, March 2007
(Page 2 of 8)
“When I come home, my wife asks me to wear a name tag.”
Shtick aside, Keller understands what he is peddling. “It is a way of life I am selling, not just aluminum,” he says. “I want the customer to share that with me. If you look at my airplane and you sit in it, you are going flying.” The lifestyle that Keller is selling centers on the ease, privacy, and get-up-and-go freedom that comes with the license to fly: If you want to travel to a new city, there’s no need to adjust your schedule to a commercial airline’s timetable or stand in airport security lines with the masses.
Keller’s customers generally have a comfortable amount of discretionary income, and some have paid for airplanes with gym bags full of cash. One paid for a new airplane by writing a personal check on the spot. Of course, financing is available. Keller recalls demonstrating an airplane to a 94-year-old pilot in Pennsylvania: “I said, ‘Now, sir, we have 20-year financing on these airplanes.’ And he says, ‘I like that.’ ”
Like those who sell almost any luxury item, airplane salesmen encounter prospective customers who often dream beyond their means and sometimes weave tall tales about their financial wherewithal. Good salesmen try to size up prospects before they invest much time and money in wooing them. Independent salesman Fred Ahles was trying to do just that during a telephone inquiry he received about 10 years ago. An older-sounding gentleman wanted a new, single-engine Piper Saratoga.
Like Keller, Ahles has been an airplane salesman for more than 30 years, and during that time he has sold more than 1,000 airplanes and represented almost every manufacturer. Today, Ahles is president of Premier Aircraft Sales, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company that sells used and new aircraft.
The man on the phone was 200 miles away and promised, “If you can deliver a new Saratoga today, I’ll take it.” The brashness made Ahles suspicious, and he feared he would blow an entire afternoon and lots of fuel showing an airplane to a wannabe. Ahles began questioning the man.
“Have you ever owned an airplane before?”
“Sonny, I’ve owned about 35 of them.”