FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Van Wall flies Citation V and Piper Lance to maintain business contacts throughout the US
Aircraft support dealerships for John Deere tractors, rec vehicles, motorcycles, wind turbines and irrigation gear
By Mike Potts
Owner & Gen Mgr Don Van Houweling aboard a John Deere tractor, seen with some of the other John Deere equipment for sale at the headquarters facility of his company, Van Wall Equipment in Perry IA.
The Van Wall Group, based in Perry IA, about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines, is one of the larger John Deere dealers in the United States. The company is also a dealer for recreational vehicles, motorcycles, wind turbines and irrigation equipment and has offices and operations in 5 states.
To manage the intricacies of those businesses, it operates a flight department consisting of a Cessna Citation V and a Piper Lance. Owner and General Manager Don Van Houweling says the company would not be what it is today without business aviation. "An airplane allows me to interact with a significant number of product-providers efficiently," he says.
My John Deere dealer reIationship requires me to manage various contracts from golf products to construction. I am also a Polaris/Victory dealer, a Honda dealer and a BMW dealer and a wind turbine distributor and an irrigation distributor and every one of those business models includes an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) provider. To be a successful dealer you have to develop close relationships with your OEM and manage those relationships on a continuous basis. Our airplanes allow us to do that efficiently."
Planes used for both executive and technician transport
For Van Houweling that means using his flight department in multiple ways to support the business.
Of course it provides his business transportation. "For example," he said, "next week I'll be in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas over a 3-day period. I have meetings in each location. There's no way I could maintain that schedule on the airlines, but I can certainly do it with our Citation."
"Having the business jet allows me to develop relationships that you can only develop with face-to-face contact on a regular basis. It gives me a huge advantage in conducting my business. But it also allows my team members to have the same advantage," he says.
Van Wall Business Mgr Matt Van Houweling with the company's Citation V at PRO. He expects to add a Citation SIC type rating to his certificate in the near future. Matt is the son of Van Wall general manager and owner Don Van Houweling.
"There are about 20 people in my organization who have similar travel requirements. With our Citation V, we can leverage this advantage across the whole management team."
The advantage, he says, extends well beyond just the convenience of business jet travel.
"When we're on the bizjet, it provides a great environment to have dialogue and talk about the goals we want to accomplish on the trip."
For example, he says, "if we're taking a group to a John Deere meeting, I'll tell everyone 'on the way home we're going to determine what we've learned and what we're going to go do about it.' Otherwise those discussions would require another meeting on another day.
This way, the topics are fresh and everyone remembers everything that just happened. The airplane just creates an atmosphere for communication and dialogue that just doesn't happen otherwise," he says.
Another key role for the Van Wall flight department is transporting technicians. "Our technicians attend training in Kansas City, Minneapolis and Columbus. They can get on our airplane at 6 am and be at an 8 am meeting, and be home in time for dinner.
Otherwise they'd spend a day or more just traveling. Technicians are worth $800 a day to our company, so if I can put 6 of them on an airplane and save each of them a working day, that's a very big deal."
Finally, Van Houweling says, there's the personal aspect of corporate travel. "Having the airplane takes a lot of wear and tear off of me, both emotionally and physically," he says.
"That matters a lot to me. When I go to the airport I know that Augie (Chief Pilot Augie Hohl) is going to be there and we're going to go where we need to go when we need to get there.
"The alternative is I go to Des Moines to catch the airline and I wonder what's going to happen. Will my plane be ready? Will I miss my connection? I wonder about all these things and I just don't need that stress."
Moreover, he says, "I can't work on a commercial airliner. I just can't. On my airplane, I have my satellite phone, it's private like the phone in my office, and I'll work the whole time on the airplane. So in addition to everything else, I haven't lost the time I'd spend traveling on the airline. On my airplane, my time aloft enroute is productive."
Background and growth of the company
Chief Pilot and Safety Officer Augie Hohl in the cockpit of Van Wall's Cessna Citation V. Aircraft has a well-equipped panel with a Honeywell GNS-XLS plus dual FMS.
The Van Wall Group is comprised of 13 dealer locations in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. The company traces its history to 1946 when Barney (Donald) Wall returned from WWII to open Wall Implement in Woodward IA. Wall already knew about selling John Deere equipment —his father, Miller Wall, was the John Deere dealer in Dallas Center IA.
Barney Wall continued to operate the standard small John Deere small town, main street dealership through the 70's. There was a solid, loyal customer base but with limited growth.
Meanwhile, Don Van Houweling was developing his own legacy with John Deere, spending the first 10 years of his career working for Deere and Company. In 1974 he and associate Les Larson opened the first John Deere Consumer Products Store in a newly-constructed facility in Ames IA that would later become a key part of the current business.
In 1976 Van Houweling joined Barney Wall's company as a partner and general manager. In addition to creating the partnership that would lead to the Van Wall Group as it is configured today, the move also introduced Van Houweling to business aviation—at a very grass roots level.
Barney Wall had learned to fly in WWII, and when Van Houweling joined the company, Barney was using a Cessna 182 to visit his customers, frequently landing at local grass strips they had at their farms.
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