retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy for the week of August 12, 2013.

I admire chutzpah. Always have.

I also have written over the years about how much I like the subscription model, when companies do their best to lock in the business of their customers by providing automatic replenishment. It has been an enormous success for Amazon with its Subscribe and Save program, and I know that I probably have more than a dozen items that I used to buy at bricks-and-mortar stores and I now subscribe to on Amazon, getting them automatically at specific time increments.

They're often cheaper, but that's not the real attraction ... I just like the idea that there are a bunch of categories that I don't have to think about. I have a kind of subscription to the place where I get a haircut, so I can go in as often as I want and just pay a monthly fee. I have a Netflix subscription, and I would argue that it was by offering subscriptions that Netflix was able to sink the Blockbuster business model. And I have a subscriptions to Starbucks coffee that has two pounds of coffee delivered each month, and even have a Jockey subscription so I can get new packages of underwear every year. (TMI?) And I think there are a lot of people like me.

And now, from California, comes news of another subscription model - for flying. A gentleman named Wade Eyerly has started a business called Surf Air, which he describes as being like Netflix for air travel: pay an initial membership fee of $500, a monthly fee of $1,650, and fly as often as you like to specific locations on six-seat, single-engine turboprops. That's chutzpah.

The New York Times writes that "Surf Air started flying in June, with service between smaller airports in Burbank, Calif., and San Carlos near Palo Alto, tapping into those who do business between Hollywood and Silicon Valley and would prefer to do so without the headaches of major airports. It added service last month to Santa Barbara, Calif., and is considering additional destinations by the end of the year."

The Times goes on to say that "it was not hard to see the lure recently when members arrived and departed from Burbank. It was possible to pull into the small parking lot outside the Atlantic Terminal, which is separate from the main terminal, walk a few dozen steps to the lobby, grab a snack from the concierge cart and walk out on the tarmac to board the plane. There were no tickets, no lines and no body scans. A valet parked the customers’ cars ... It is a pitch to certain kinds of decision makers — the small-business chief executives, the bottom half of the one-percenters, those who have not yet made their fortune but are intent on making their mark. For his customers, Mr. Eyerly hopes Surf Air can be an incubator of ideas, where flights can be dinner parties in the air, where the membership can be a Facebook for entrepreneurs."

As someone who spends months of every year on the road, it isn't hard for me to see the attraction of this business model, though I have no idea of the business model makes any sense.

On the other hand, I don't want to be the old fart who dismisses it out of hand.

Eyerly says that one advantage of the Surf Air business plan is that it will become obvious in 12-18 months if it is going to work. If it does, great. If it doesn't, he'll shut it down and move on to the next idea.

That's a lesson in 21st century business development all by itself. Try lots of things, tap into a defined consumer need or desire, don't be afraid of failure, and work like hell to make sure the concept takes flight. And if doesn't ... well, as Jimmy Buffett sings, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: