When Sean Casey looked into the crystal ball for his young company, it became increasingly clear that the key to its future lay beyond U.S. borders.
The former residential real estate broker had founded Rotorcorp LLC with his brother in California, a helicopter pilot and mechanic who had cashed out of another venture providing aerial whale-watching tours over the Pacific.
Having landed in Atlanta, the company was doing well supplying parts, engines and upgrade kits to Robinson Helicopter maintenance centers domestically and around the world.
“We see that helicopter as a flying pickup truck. They’re using it to do the work that they do,” Mr. Casey said, whether it’s used in commercial fishing, monitoring of energy infrastructure, cattle ranching or personal travel. Certified service centers don’t often stock everything that’s needed, and Rotorcorp fills that gap.
“We see that helicopter as a flying pickup truck. They’re using it to do the work that they do.”
“They’re buying what they need to work on in the next 30 minutes — maybe 30 days,” Mr. Casey said.
But it became clear that Rotorcorp had to think bigger — beyond capitalizing on inefficiencies in a fragmented supply chain to really becoming a partner and service provider to its growing network of Robinson operators.
The Small Business Administration’s competitive Emerging Leaders Program offered some clarity. One of 16 participants chosen out of 300 applicants, Mr. Casey got what he equates to a condensed MBA that forced him to come up with a detailed three-year growth plan.
The result was a sustained focus on exporting, which not even halfway through his expansion plan already accounts for 60 percent of sales. That makes sense, given that two out of three Robinson helicopters are sold outside the U.S., he said.
“The lion’s share of the economic growth in the next 100 years is going to happen outside the U.S. It’s just demographically unavoidable. I don’t look at that as a problem,” Mr. Casey told Global Atlanta. “It creates an opportunity to service these growing markets. The U.S. is the undisputed leader in aviation.”
It hasn’t always been easy for a three-person company based in a small office facing the tarmac of Fulton County Airport-Brown Field, a hub for business aviation in the city.
One order had to be sent to Krasnoyarsk, a Russian city north of Mongolia. The shipper quoted one price, then tried to raise it once the container landed in Germany, resulting in a months-long payment dispute.
Other deals have been simpler, though with learning opportunities. Selling to militaries in Lebanon and Jordan using helicopters for pilot training has been instructive. Then there was the commercial fishing client in Panama who needed a face to Mr. Casey’s name before he would sign on the dotted line.
“He said, ‘I need to look you in the eye and make sure you’re not going to rip me off,’” Mr. Casey said. Since the trip, Rotorcorp has sold the customer three helicopters valued at $1.5 million.
Brokerage is natural for Mr. Casey, who sees the company’s value most clearly in “bringing the real world to the aviation,” which he sees as slow and resistant to change due to entrenched interests.
Mr. Casey learned search engine optimization and digital marketing during the early days of his real-estate career, which paid off in an industry filled with cutthroat competition. Now, he notes proudly, Rotorcorp occupies the top results for “R44 overhaul kits” and other terms. That means less money spent on marketing.
With that in view, Rotorcorp is focused heavily on building an e-commerce platform to replace the cumbersome paper manuals most service centers use to order parts, often causing time-consuming phone calls.
In the meantime, Rotorcorp is streamlining its own order fulfillment process with a new digital inventory management system purchased with help from the $5,000 Atlanta Metro Export Challenge grant the company received this year. Even before that, Rotorcorp had begun using its own cobbled-together data to predict how long parts would sit on the shelf.
“It’s really business intelligence,” says Tracy Jensen, Rotorcorp’s business development director. “We’re running it by numbers: what’s been selling, what we predict will sell and what are our biggest money-makers.”
In addition to the Export Challenge, a wide variety of resources have been key to the company’s export success — none more important than financing.
The Export-Import Bank of the United States is an important backer, guaranteeing transactions with foreign buyers and aiding with cash flow. While the bank has long been hamstrung by the lack of a board quorum, which keeps its approved deals below $10 million, that hasn’t affected Rotorcorp, which uses export credit guarantees to insure international sales.
Mr. Casey would like to see the institution expanded and hopes the Rotorcorp itself can become an Ex-Im preferred lender, enabling the company to provide its own commercial terms when eventually brokering the sale of new and used helicopters and related products, “making money off of money.”
That’s down the road, “when we get our big-boy pants,” Mr. Casey said. In the shorter term, he said the company is looking into an IC-DISC, a tax structure that allows companies in some cases to avoid or reduce taxes on profits generated from export sales.
There are also personal resources around Atlanta as the city’s export community grows. Mr. Casey has struck up a relationship with another export all-star: Zaheer Faruqi of Peachtree City-based Aventure Aviation, who last year took home the $20,000 grant from the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge.
Mr. Casey said he’s always looking for mentorships and programs like the SBA Emerging Leaders managed by Interise, which gave Rotorcorp its “Company to Watch” award based on its three-year plan, Mr. Casey said.
“I don’t always know what I don’t know, and any opportunity I can take to expose and reveal the unknowns, that’s good.”
Rotorcorp this year for the first time snuck into the Inc. 5000 list of fast-growing private companies at No. 4806, posting 46 percent growth to $5.1 million in revenues this year.
Learn more about the company at www.rotorcorp.com.