With 2,500 moneyed members, Wheels Up, the private-aviation company, is making fashion more of a gateway for its clients.
The company will launch a two-tiered e-commerce site in the next month or so — one geared for all the callers ringing up the headquarters looking to buy Wheels Up baseball hats and another with a bevy of women’s and men’s apparel and accessories solely for members. Wheels Up is also partnering with Barneys New York to offer its members special benefits. And earlier this month a Wheels Up lounge opened in the Nantucket, Mass., boutique Town Pool in its aptly named Easy Street location. Aside from being a hangout where members can recharge their phones and watch sports on the flat screen TV, it is also a place for potential clients to learn about the benefits of flying private. Wheels Up plans to return next summer and is looking into adopting the retail format in other markets, according to chief brand officer Mark Sage.
Just as fashion brands are focusing more on demographics, Wheels Up is speaking with some manufacturers, which Sage declined to name, about cobranding merchandise for the members-only section of the site. To board a King Air 350i, Wheels Up members pay a one-time initiation fee of $17,500 and $8,500 annual dues beginning in the second year, plus fixed hourly rates for occupied flight hours. Nearing its third anniversary, the company plans to have more than 3,000 members by the end of the year.
Already working with Zegna, Theory and Blushington, Sage said Barneys is the newest brand to become part of its membership benefits’ platform, which offers “value-added benefits.” As part of the “renewal appreciation kit,” members who sign up for another year will receive a gift bag including a Barneys gift card, Sage said. Barneys’ top card members, who sign up for Wheels Up memberships, will get added benefits and vice versa. A Barneys spokeswoman declined to comment on the specifics of the deal Monday.
With a cobranded Red Sox Clubhouse for members at Fenway Park, Wheels Up wanted to have a presence in another iconic Massachusetts city and decided on Nantucket, Sage said. The island, 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Mass., is one of the most heavily trafficked areas for Wheels Up, due largely to Boston and New York clients. As of last week, the company had picked up 50-plus prospects through Town Pool, Sage said. Shoppers there find middle-of-the-road priced labels like Toms, Grungy Gentleman, Collared Greens, CK Bradley and Driscoll. The second-floor Wheels Up lounge has an open door to the store’s kid-friendly penny candy area.
Wheels Up founder and chief executive officer Kenny Dichter is known to think creatively. In 2001 at Marquis Jet, Dichter and his partners created the first 25-hour fractional jet card. Nine years later, after more than $4 billion in jet card sales, Marquis Jet was sold to NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway company. Dichter has other ties to fashion — late last year he joined the board of directors at Guideboat Co., the Mill Valley, Calif., company started by Stephen Gordon.