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When Kelvin Boyette started his own aircraft-seat cleaning and repair business in Greensboro five years ago, he soon found he needed to connect to smaller international carriers and regional airlines around the world.
“They’re the ones that outsource their seat maintenance,” said Boyette, founder and president of Latitude Aero. “The major international airlines have their own back shops.”
Exhibiting his services at international trade shows — often with the support of the EDPNC — has been key to the growing success of his startup.
In particular, it has helped Boyette pivot his business from its initial focus on installing seatback entertainment systems — which many major airlines are phasing out — to becoming one of a handful of businesses that clean and repair aircraft seats, as well as upgrade their parts and electronics. Latitude Aero primarily serves cost-conscious small international and regional airlines in the U.S., Middle East, Europe and Asia. Reconditioning a commercial airline seat is about half the cost of buying a new one.
“Thanks to the EDPNC, Latitude Aero has been able to engage with prospects and exhibit our offerings in London, Dubai, Hamburg, Amsterdam, and more,” Boyette said. “The EDPNC has been an invaluable resource for establishing our brand around the globe.”
The EDPNC has connected Latitude Aero to State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grants that have helped pay for booth space and travel expenses related to exhibiting at targeted international trade shows. In North Carolina, the EDPNC administers the federal STEP funds available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
In the 2018-19 grant cycle, STEP helped 195 North Carolina businesses participate in 280 exporting activities ranging from trade shows and export education workshops to translation of marketing materials and websites into foreign languages.
Boyette, who estimates half his sales in 2020 will be international, credits STEP with contributing to his startup’s revenue growth and current expansion. Latitude Aero expects to grow from 12 employees in Greensboro to 30 nationwide, once it opens a new repair station near Seattle. The station will service Boeing’s international customers as well as fix seats that break at Boeing manufacturing plants.
The company is also planning to open its first internationally located repair station in 2020.
— Kelvin Boyette
In 2019, STEP continued to support Latitude Aero’s annual participation in the high-profile Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. “We probably do 60 percent of our annual sales during or as a direct result of that show,” Boyette said.
“With the help of the $5,000 STEP booth allowance, we got a Main Street location at the show, did our own custom booth, went taller,” Boyette said. “No matter where you were in the building, you could see Latitude Aero.”
Latitude Aero participated in 60 business meetings during the event’s three days. “Over half were with potential new customers we had never reached before,” Boyette said.
Also in 2019, STEP funds offset $2,000 of Latitude Aero’s fee to join a U.S. Commercial Service aerospace trade mission to Turkey.
“We had 40 meetings — with airlines, maintenance and repair companies that work on Turkish aircraft but don’t have a seat service, distributors or sales companies that may want to add our service to their portfolio,” Boyette said. “It would have taken us 10 trips to Turkey over two years to do what we did in five days on this mission.”