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7 Key Takeaways from Drone Dealer Expo 2016

BY Alan Perlman
16 April 2016

drone dealer expo dinnerLast week, I attended Drone Dealer Expo 2016, a 3-day summit focused on the channel, bringing together drone manufacturers, distributors and resellers to exchange ideas and techniques, and to learn about new products and selling opportunities.

I (and my social media manager, Ryan,) represented the UAV Coach team. We had company t-shirts and everything.

With 445 participants from 17 different countries and 40+ expert speakers / panelists, boy what a show it was. Drone geeks, unite!

Before I get into key takeaways, I’d like to give a quick shout out to some of our old and new friends. Was nice to meet you all in person and look forward to our paths crossing again soon.

Also, was great to chat with the Gowdy Brothers team, Scott at SkySmith.com, the Very Drone team, Skip Fredricks, Kevin Malley, Sergey Shalatskiy, Jordan Arshinoff Foss, and Ryan at SoaringSky.net.

Drone Dealer Expo - Florida 20167 Key Takeaways from Drone Dealer Expo 2016

Alright, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the conference.

What’d I learn?

1) That the hobbyist market is shrinking, but the commercial sUAS market is still growing.

Colin Snow of Drone Analyst delivered the opening keynote where he released insights from a massive market research study, Drones in the Channel, that he and his team have been conducting over the last few months.

One of my big takeaways?

That the hobbyist market is getting more saturated, particularly following a flush 2015 holiday season, but that the commercial market is still growing. And, pending regulatory improvements, set to explode here in the United States over the next several months.

We’ve already seen manufacturers like 3DR start to move upstream, and the ddatasuggests that this trend will continue.

2) That the channel needs to BUNDLE.

If you sell drones, this is a really important concept.

The consumer isn’t likely just interested in the aircraft. They’re also interested in SD cards, in camera filters, in travel cases and backpacks, in extra batteries, etc.

This presents a huge opportunity for manufacturers, distributors and retailers, each who can offer not just the aircraft, but a much more powerful bundle for their customers.

There are companies that have done really well just selling accessories to Apple, GoPro, Samsung, etc. Like, million dollar companies. We’ll likely see more and more of this in the drone market.

It’s not just about making money, of course. It’s about providing a one-stop shop for your customer, who often needs a lot more than just the drone to effectively operate.

3) That in-person events are a great way to showcase expertise and provide value to the community.

A lot of presenters talked about getting more involved in the community.

I particularly enjoyed Ryan Cowell from Soaring Sky, who presented a number of ways he and his team have grown their company over the last couple of years.

From running in-person training workshops and volunteering their time at events to educate the community about sUAS safety and flight operations, Soaring Sky has done a great job positioning themselves as not just a commercial aerial service company, but true thought leaders who give back to the community.

4) That there’s a big opportunity in FPV racing.

FPV racing and drone customization is almost like the “Wild West” of the drone market. With nimble, custom-built drones whizzing by obstacles (at sometimes up to 70 mph), and special goggles offering the flyer first-person views, it’s easy to see the attraction.

I attended a session with David and Sarah Oneal of That Drone Show on new opportunities in the FPV racing market.

The initial boom in hobbyist drone pilots is stabilizing, with price constraints and existing high standards of technology leaving many consumers with little motivation to purchase a second high-priced drone. This presents a challenge to the smaller drone retailer. Couple this with the market being squeezed by the entrance of big box retailers, online stores, and manufacturers selling directly to the consumer, and for many this is a scary place to be occupying.

Drone racing offers an exciting opportunity for retailers and manufacturers alike. Dominated by the youth market, with high disposable income, this new demographic is looking for speed, thrills, and customization – all of which can produce extra revenue for the people they buy from.

5) That taking your raw photo / video / data and turning it into a final product for your client can take a LOT of work.

It’s the GoPro conundrum.

Sure, they put out an AMAZING product, but what happened?

Their millions of users have millions of hours of beautiful footage…still sitting on the action camera. If you don’t have a background in video or data post-processing, then taking your raw footage to a final, finished product can be really challenging.

We’re already starting to see this in the drone industry. It’s up to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to educate their customers and, ultimately, to make it easier to go from raw footage to finished product.

Our team is working on an intermediate-level aerial cinematography course that’ll hopefully help to fill this gap.

6) That if you’re selling, you need to learn what matters most to your target customers.

As I mentioned above, the hobbyist market is getting more saturated, but the commercial market is growing. If you’re a retailer, knowing how to sell to someone who’s interested in doing basic real estate photography is a lot different than someone who wants to use the same sUAS to do, say, mapping / 3D modeling.

Some people might just care about flight time and basic features. Others might care about more advanced sensors and post-processing / rendering data.

I sat in on a great panel with some mapping and modeling experts who waxed philosophical on multirotor vs. fixed-wing systems, on RTK, photogrammetry, on orthomosaic maps, and more. If you’re selling drones or plan to offer mapping / modeling services to your clients, you’ve got to commit to learning this stuff.

It’s not just about flying and taking pretty pictures and video. It’s about intimately understanding a market and knowing how aerial photo / video / data can help offer ROI to your customer.

7) That U.S. drone regulations are (still) kind of a mess.

I could go on a healthy rant about the complexities and challenges of our existing Section 333 exemption process, but here’s the thing.

Many of us drone pilots are entering the highly regulated aviation industry for the first time, and that transition has been…frustrating. But the reality is that it’s far from over.

Fixed-wing and rotor wing aviation is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the U.S. (and the world). From aircraft certification and maintenance requirements to training and proficiency requirements across different classes of operation, we already have a regulatory blueprint that we can look at when pondering where sUAS regulations are heading.

Someone, maybe Colin Snow, suggested that we’re only at about a 15-20% maturity level with sUAS regulations right now.

Certain aspects of the rules might become more streamlined when Part 107 is released (over the summer?), but at the end of the day, you’re operating an aircraft in the national airspace. That’ll require logging, maintenance records, ongoing certifications, etc. just like any other class of aircraft.

BONUS: The Biggest Competitor in Your Business

And you thought I only had 7 insights!

Here’s one more for you.

Chances are, if you’re still reading this post, you’re interested in the commercial side of the sUAS industry. I can’t imagine too many hobbyists have waded through this entire article.

One of my biggest takeaways, and something I’m really taking to heart right now as UAV Coach continues to grow, is what Steven Reese, the Director of Business Development and Commercial Solutions at Yuneec USA, said in his keynote address.

Steven said that, “The biggest competitor in your business is the decision not to do anything.”

So that’s my final call-to-action to any of you still reading.

Remember your vision. Embrace your unique value proposition in the market.

Get after it folks. Push things forward. The drone industry is GROWING.

Until next time,

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