Drone Dealer Expo provides advice for brick and mortar retailers

By Bill McNeil

If more than 70 percent of all drones were purchased via Internet retailers, what hope is there for brick-and-mortar drone retailers? That and other questions about marketing and merchandising weighed heavily on the minds of many of the 450 attendees at this month's Drone Dealer Expo.

Many of the attendees of the first Drone Dealer Expo, held April 11-13 at the Florida Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida, were either brick-and-mortar drone dealers or people seriously considering starting a retail store. They had come to the show specifically to learn about market trends, e-commerce techniques, distribution channels and merchandising. Liability insurance and other legal issues were other topics of interest.

It was presenter Colin Snow, CEO and founder of Skylogic Research, LLC,who revealed that most drones were purchased online. His 2016 Drone Buyer Survey also indicated that the drone distribution channel was made up of about 35,000 web and retail outlets. Given this reality, it is easy for small brick-and-mortar UAV dealers to get lost in the crowd. But several speakers suggested that new local retail stores can effectively compete with the big box merchants; they simply must offer high margin accessories — such as props, chargers, carrying cases, etc. — and replacement parts that larger establishments may not carry.

Liz Pelzel, channel marketing manager at Parrot suggested offering “getting started bundles,” assisting new customers in completing the FAA registration process, and offering drone rentals.

Dealers have found that providing after-market services to all drone pilots, regardless of where the UAV was purchased, is also smart business. Large and online retail merchants may offer the best drone prices, but they usually don’t have personnel to answer technical questions or repair the UAVs they've sold. Smaller brick-and-mortar stores, therefore, provide a valuable service, serving the drone customer after he/she has purchased a UAV from the Internet or large retailer. That service creates loyalty; the next drone a user buys may well be from the retailer that provided the best service, not necessarily the best price.

The Drone Dealer Expo also provided entertainment in the form of drone races. These small craft, usually less than six inches in diameter, travel at speeds in excess of 75 MPH! During the races, they were flown around a low-level obstacle course by pilots wearing goggles that received streaming video. The flight action was so fast that the live feed to the goggles had to remain analog because just the second or two it takes to convert the signal to digital was too long. There was a certain amount of excitement around each race because crashes were frequent.

In summary, the expo was well worth attending, with good speakers and content. I’ll be back next year. I hope to see you there! 

Published Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Written by Bill McNeil

Published in


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