US entrepreneur brings SEXY brand to the skies thanks to an innovative paint job executed by Duncan Aviation. P1 speaks to SEXY founder Mark Bonfigli, who hopes to bring some fun to the ‘boring’ charter market.
A unique and eye catching aesthetic is rarely the top priority for charter aircraft, however Metropolitan Aviation is determined to stand out from the crowd with their newly refurbished Gulfstream V, branded SEXYjet.
The driving force behind the brand is US entrepreneur Mark Bonfigli who called on his experiences as a charter jet passenger anas well as his automotive marketing background to design a unique experience which he hopes will bring a sense of fun and personality to the otherwise conservative corporate charter experience.
Bonfigli made his fortune as the founder, president and CEO of Dealer.com, a provider of online marketing solutions for the automotive industry. Under his leadership the company was recognised as one of the fastest growing companies in the US, and was awarded several automotive industry awards for being the number-one internet marketing solution for auto dealers. Bonfigli was personally recognised for his work as a finalist in the 2007 and 2008 Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in the New England region.
In 2012 he stepped down from his role at Dealer.com and established the SEXY brand with his wife Marisa, starting with SEXY Beach Tennis, which has developed a line of clothing and accessories for the sport.
He explains his ambitions are to take this brand out of sport and into the mainstream. “The SEXY brand is a brand that has multiple verticals,” says Bonfigli, “one of which is fashion and sporting goods. We build apparel and equipment for the sport of beach tennis, which is the fastest growing beach sport in the world and we are now selling those products. That’s the birth of the brand, now we are starting to move into all aspect of fashion so we’ll be making SEXY watches, SEXY glasses, eyewear, clothing, jeans, leather jackets, you name it. We’re going to turn the SEXY brand into high profile brand that’ll be used by a lot of our clients, including high profile celebrities.”
The use of the word sexy is about a way of living, according to Bonfigli, and he is determined to redefine it and to make it about the customer’s experience. He relates the use of the word to product design, saying it is not uncommon for it to be used when you look at a product that makes total sense to the consumer and is attractive to them. A good example, he says, is the iPhone – a product which was sexy due to its use of aluminium, rounded corners and precise engineering.
With ambitions toward the fashion and sports industry and strong opinions on product design, you would be forgiven for questioning why Bonfigli would choose to place his brand in the charter jet market, but for him the reason is simple – he wanted to solve a problem.
“I wanted to create an experience that I wasn’t experiencing when chartering planes over the last several years. It’s a lot like what Richard Branson went through with commercial aviation, back when he started and purchased a plane,” he says.
“For me the amount of investment didn’t seem to align so well with the experience and the service that was realised for such a large investment and many of the improvements that a charter company could make to that experience weren’t always tied to the financial investment, so for me it made even more sense to try to accomplish all of that by owning my own plane and putting it out to charter and provide that experience to people.”
Bonfigli’s aspirations could be compared with the advertising slogan “Think different” once used by Apple, designer of the iPhone. The SEXYjet experience is all about breaking away from the corporate mould and providing customers with a feeling that is personal and a cohesive service that is worth their investment.
Much of the Gulfstream V’s literal ‘sexy’ aesthetic will come from its unique paint scheme which Metropolitan calls, “one of the most complex aircraft paint schemes ever completed”. The work was done by Duncan Aviation at their Battle Creek, Michigan facility and took technicians more than 3,000 man-hours to bring the vision from paper to production.
The eye-catching design was part of Mark’s vision from the beginning according to Jacquie Dalton, Metropolitan Aviation COO. “All the work we’ve done was strictly driven by Mark’s vision for the aircraft and the SEXYjet,” she says. “The paint scheme that he came up with was just so impressive we just started to roll with it and did a complete exterior paint job that was very, very complex. It’s a two tone paint scheme with two very difficult paints to work with; you virtually have to have a flawless application.”
She adds proudly, “Duncan aviation has stated that it is the most complex paint job that they’ve ever done. It’s just stunning and it’s been quite an amazing process to be a part of.”
The two-tone aesthetic of the project used two primary systems, Sherwin Williams’s satin black base with satin clear coat and Axalta Chromaulion’s “colour changing” base coat colour called Perfect Jade. “This unique and stylish paint scheme will unquestionably make it one of the most eye-catching aircraft in the world,” says George Bajo, a Duncan Aviation technical sales representative.
The multi-million-dollar refurbishment of the Gulfstream V also extends beyond just the paint scheme, with the jet’s 1,669 cubic foot cabin also receiving a full make over to ensure it matches the brands style.
Dalton says that following the acquisition of the jet they had originally planned to simply replace the carpet and the fabrics, with a complete refurbishment and exterior paint job scheduled for spring 2016. However, Bonfigli’s enthusiasm for design persuaded the team that the aesthetic was just as important as functionality.
“We used our company colour which is a lime green and in this case we used a pearl paint on the outside that changes colour,” Bonfigli describes. “If you just stand in front of this plane, and walk twenty feet to the left and twenty feet to the right its going to be hard not to use a word like sexy or something close to it, because its an incredible design, it’s a beautiful machine to look at.
“We took all the attributes we believe are important in product design and created an ambiance on the inside of the plane, with seating that is comparable if not surpassing the seating in super ultra-luxury vehicles such as a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce Phantom. We’ve made heavily contrasting white leather seats with dark carpeting and custom striping, and we have mood lighting which a lot of people call light therapy, so we have the ability to change the colour of the environment using a wide array of controls for LED lighting.
“It’s a consistent ambiance that most people aren’t accustomed to when flying in private charters, typically most private charters are stock, the way they came from the factory, but quite frankly we want our clients to ask if they can keep flying a little longer. And that’s the situation you would expect if you are paying as much money as people do to
One of the most surprising and refreshing aspects of the jet is not in the design or the brand but in the enthusiasm the Metropolitan team has to take a risk and stand out. Dalton enthuses that there was energy and excitement over the project from day one and say that is what motivated them to take the leap.
“I think the time for flying under the radar has passed and I think people in this industry, I know for us as a company, we’re ready to be out there and stand out a little bit and say hey this is our industry and we’re proud of it,” she says.
Metropolitan Aviation’s owner and CEO Alan R. Cook, also shows little sign of doubt over the ambitious nature of the project saying they have already received an enthusiastic response from the charter community and the company anticipates that the unique design and fresh approach will attract a great deal of interest from clients.
The risk-taking attitude from both Metropolitan and Bonfigli stems from their joint opinion that the private jet experience has become too corporate and the experience that is so ‘safe’ that it is almost boring.
Bonfigli draws on his own experiences as a customer and as a business leader to highlight his feelings over the lack of innovation among charters, comparing the corporate jet market to the automobile industry: “I think that there are some similarities in that innovation tends to be focussed on the plane itself. In other words innovations are occurring in technology, surrounding engine design or fuel efficiency or range or top speed. There’s always innovation made by manufacturers who are trying to figure out how to make the next big amazing plane but with that said I think that the industry has been very slow to innovate on what the consumer experience is.
“I feel like for me personally, I haven’t seen any innovation to be honest with you. I’ve really been wishing and hoping that one time I would charter a plane and go on a long vacation or long business trip with my wife and be blown away by the fact the charter company understood that spending US$100,000 is a huge investment, it doesn’t matter how wealthy the individual is.”
He goes on to explain it was Metropolitan’s agreement on this that drew him to them. Dalton also echoes this sentiment saying that Metropolitan has often discussed how limited people are in the design of their aircraft or even with their corporate logos on aircraft. Being different, she says, is a good thing and they are ready to take a giant leap.
“This is a very strong critical industry, particularly in America where it makes a significant contribution to the economy and employs thousands of people,” says Dalton. “Aviation is powerful and dynamic and I think that maybe we are coming back around to embracing that, feeling good about that and not being ashamed of success to the point where we can’t fly private and actually enjoy it. Marks words are, ‘there’s nothing mundane or ordinary about flying private’, and I don’t think his approach is to come out there and put it in anybody’s face by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s to bring back the romanticism and that thrill of flying private and make every opportunity that you are flying private memorable.”
Whether the vision will pay off remains to be seen, but so far the industry has received the it with great admiration, including a gaining a great deal of attention at this year’s NBAA event in Las Vegas. SEXYjet will make its initial debut through Mark and his wife Marisa’s flights around the world to compete in professional beach tennis tournaments, before it is made available for charter.
If Bonfigli is feeling any nerves over making a loud entrance into an extremely competitive industry, he’s not showing it.
“I don’t feel nervous from the standpoint of potential failure but I definitely feel excitement,” he says. “Any feelings that are related to being nervous are more about how quickly can we do certain things how fast can we get there, it’s not about whether it will work.
“For me it’s already working; I’m seeing photos of this plane popping up all over the internet, it’s exciting to people, and it’s not just exciting to people that dream of flying on a plane like this – it’s also exciting to people that fly charters all the time because, to be quite frank, they are a little bit bored and it’s nice to have some excitement.”