Greetings Steve. Crikey, is that your business card? [Varsano hands across a silver-plated engraved object of business card dimensions.]
Yeah, we're not selling cappuccinos here.
Business must be good judging by the weight of this. We're a sports section, so let's get that side of things out of the way before we indulge in the operation's sheer decadence. What sportspeople are buying these - or is it just Tiger Woods?
You see it more with teams like baseball, [ice] hockey, football, basketball and a few golfers. They tend to buy, lease or charter bigger aeroplanes like Boeings or Airbuses and deck them out with business or first-class seats because they're constantly on the road. It becomes impossible to check-in and traipse around with luggage three to four times a week. They don't want to be in front of fans at the airport either because they're celebrities. They want to travel with privacy, security and confidentiality. They also need flexibility to take off when they choose. They're sometimes leaving at weird times and going long distances. That's where a corporate aeroplane is useful.
You do bespoke, so what are some of the more bizarre requests you've catered for?
Everyone wants to know that, but unfortunately it's an incredibly boring answer. About 75 per cent are flown by middle management people. Sure, it's a luxury asset to own, but it's looked at more as a corporate tool. There is the odd extraordinary request but it's generally regarding decor. In larger Airbuses and Boeings you get some more off-the-wall stuff. People from the Middle East often take a hospital on-board, other planes have mobile garages for favourite cars and some racehorse owners have on-board stables.
Some celebrities enter the back door of the showroom and we pull down the front shutters so they aren't seen.
What does the average jet cost?
They're priced anywhere from US$3 million to US$95 million. The majority of the time you're talking about smaller to mid-size planes in the US$3 million to US$10 million bracket but those who want to fly 14-hour trips would be looking at more. There are around 20,000 corporate jets worldwide and 135 models have been developed over the past 30 years.
How many do you sell a year?
We can't give that information out, but about 150 jets a month are traded.
Has anyone in New Zealand bought one?
Absolutely. In fact, I can tell you exactly how many, wait a sec (nips off to what he calls "the trading floor", dashes back a couple of minutes later). New Zealand has 11 jets registered, but that doesn't mean others don't own them but register elsewhere. To put that in context: there are about 450 in the UK, 11,000 in America and 160 in China. Fyi, New Zealand also has 739 helicopters.
How does the business work?
We buy and sell the jets, doing about 80 per cent pre-owned aeroplanes and 15 per cent new. It's a global business with markets emerging in Nigeria, Ukraine, Russia and Mexico.
The problem we had was accessing these people face-to-face so I came up with this crazy idea - develop an aviation showroom which combines a home office, super-high technology and creature comforts [the sofas are white leather, a wine cellar is in the sideboard and a game of backgammon is "in progress"]. This means you're either going to end up looking like an idiot or a genius. This location next to a roundabout in Belgravia [points outside from the 1 Grosvenor Place address], leading to Knightsbridge and Mayfair is where our market revolves. They come past our window, it catches their eye and they make their driver go around again.
London is also the most accessible place to hit the global market. Americans own 50 per cent of jets but we're focusing on emerging markets. We've also set up a trading floor to find out who is buying and selling.
Well, I won't be buying today, Steve, but I've walked past and been captivated. It does the trick.