Midwest Manufacturers ‘Taking Care of Business’ With Single King Air Operation
Feburary 1, 2014
From his office window at Bowers Manufacturing Company’s 364,000-square-foot plant in Portage, MI, Chairman of the Board Jon Bowers watches aircraft taking off and landing at nearby Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport (AZO). Although he once hoped to be an Air Force jet pilot (it turned out his eyesight was not good enough), these days Bowers is content to be a frequent business flyer on his company’s AZO-based Beechcraft King Air C90A twin-turboprop. “The airplane is a key part of our business,” said Bowers. “It’s ingrained into the fabric of how we run our company.”
Bowers Manufacturing Company, with about 360 employees, is a single-source solution for aluminum extrusion, fabrication, anodizing/finishing and assembly work. The company supplies parts for the appliance, furniture and other industries, and specializes in decorative anodize finishes, as well as high visual appeal extruded aluminum products. Bowers, who started the company with four employees in 1973, soon saw the need for a company aircraft.
“My sales manager came dragging in one day,” recounted Bowers. “It had taken him two-and-a-half days just to visit a customer in Madison, WI, what with having to drive around the lake [Lake Michigan], spending the night, having the meeting and driving back.” Much of the company’s business is conducted in the Midwest, so Bowers employees often had to contend with getting around several of the Great Lakes if going by land, as well as with limited commercial airline service out of AZO. Bowers’ technicians, sales team and executives make frequent trips to Madison and Pell City, AL, as well as numerous locations within about 600 miles from Kalamazoo – most of which are at least two commercial flights and then a rental car drive away. Greenwood, MS is another location that TCB Air flies to; the nearest airline service is more than one-and-a-half hours from Greenwood.
A Cirrus SR22 single-engine piston airplane was the first company aircraft. “It turned a 14-hour round trip into a trip of less than two hours,” said Bowers. Bowers Manufacturing utilized the Cirrus for more than three years – flying it about 300 hours a year – before it moved up to a Piper Malibu Matrix, a non-pressurized version of the Mirage. The turbocharged aircraft provided additional space and comfort, but prudence still dictated that the single-engine plane be flown around the various Great Lakes in winter or bad weather, rather then over them, according to Chief Pilot Gabriel Valim.
In 2012, Bowers purchased the King Air with friend and business associate Marc Schupan, CEO of Schupan & Sons, a Kalamazoo-based multi-divisional company composed of an industrial metals recycling division, a used beverage container recycling division and an aluminum distribution and fabrication division. They formed TCB (Taking Care of Business) Air LLC to jointly own the aircraft that would be operated independently by both companies. “We service about 800 plants in the Midwest and have nearly 12,000 customers throughout the U.S.,” said Schupan, noting that his company is the largest private beverage container recycling operation in the U.S. Schupan & Sons employs 400 people, 200 of them in Kalamazoo, and also has facilities in Dayton and Toledo, OH; Wixom and Grand Rapids, MI; Elkhart, IN; and Chicago, IL.
Schupan, who buys scrap metal from Bowers, had utilized the Malibu Mirage several times and quickly recognized the time savings and efficiency of using a business aircraft for transporting sales, technical, quality control and executive staff to locations around the country, as well as the occasional flight to bring customers to Schupan & Sons facilities. The King Air is used one-third of the time (about 100 hours a year) by Schupan & Sons, and two-thirds of the time (somewhat more than 200 hours a year) by Bowers Manufacturing Company. Both companies have legal agreements with TCB Air to specify terms such as which entity is in operational control of flights. Chief Pilot Valim – a former regional airline pilot, who is employed outside of TCB Air – will use contract copilots on occasion, and handles all scheduling, maintenance servicing, ground transportation, and catering and hotel accommodations, if necessary. However, the beauty of the King Air, according to both Bowers and Schupan, is that the vast majority of flights are “out and back” one-day trips. The ability to fly out and back in a day is a large savings in hotel, meal and rental car expenses.
The King Air is proving to be the ideal aircraft for TCB Air. “Most of our customers are within a two to two-anda-half-hour flight from here, which is just right for the King Air, which has proven to be a very cost-effective airplane,” said Bowers. The trip to meet the customer in Madison, for example, has been reduced from seven hours to 45 minutes: “We used to drive to the airport in Grand Rapids, fly to Milwaukee, then rent a car and drive to Madison,” he said.
“The King Air fits perfectly for where our plants are located. It’s ideal for when we ‘need to get there,’ and is a great sales tool when we want to showcase our manufacturing facilities to a customer,” said Schupan. “When I look at our employees and the value of their time, it’s easy to justify the airplane.” Schupan also noted that the aircraft affords the speed to “make good decisions,” such as the time when some of his employees flew to a location in Minnesota to determine whether the company should buy a certain piece of machinery. “The aircraft gave us the ability to get the information and make the right decision, quickly,” he said.
Valim recounted a recent situation that highlighted the utility of the company aircraft. He had flown some sales staff to Alabama when a plant was found to have a problem with a pump. Upon departing the airport in Alabama, he redirected the flight to Allentown, PA, where they picked up a part for the pump and brought it back to Kalamazoo, minimizing down time and keeping the line running.
Both Bowers Manufacturing Company and Schupan & Sons will occasionally bring parts to customers or plants on the airplane with them, something that they “can’t do on the airlines,” according to Bowers.
Marc Schupan is sold on the value of the aircraft as an important business tool for his company. “If I had realized earlier in my career how much time an airplane would save, and how positive it would be for our business, I would have gotten one at least five years ago,” he said.
In addition to saving time and providing utility to its two Michigan-based manufacturing company owners, TCB Air wanted to learn more about how to operate at peak efficiency, find out about safety management systems, and get more information about flight department tax benefits, regulations, legal considerations and more. The answer? TCB Air joined NBAA last October, and shortly thereafter was announced as the Association’s 10,000th Member.
Chief Pilot Gabriel Valim is eager to take advantage of the information and services that NBAA will provide, and is considering participating in the Certified Aviation Manager (CAM) program. “We are looking forward to using all the resources available to us through NBAA, as the primary goal of our flight department is safety,” said Valim.