Andrew Shand always wanted a career that involved aircraft. He just didn't think it might involve books or models hanging from a ceiling in a shop in central Napier.
Andrew got his private pilot's licence shortly after leaving high school in Auckland.
A love of flying and travel saw him end up in England in the 90s. While there he decided to get his commercial licence and did what many aspiring pilots in Britain do - head to Florida where the weather is better and lessons are cheaper.
"The idea was to find a job, build up my hours and gradually progress to fly for a commercial airline," he says.
This involved a couple of trips to Botswana in search of work flying tourists over the Okavango Delta. Jobs were scarce, largely due to a drop in tourism after the 9/11 bombings and Andrew wound up doing other things.
He spent a year and a half running a bar on the shores of Lake Malawi and another year as a dive master in Zanzibar. Between times he spent a short stint working at pilot shops in London and Sussex, where he met girlfriend and future wife Jen.
After Africa the pair decided to head for New Zealand. En route they chose to stay in Cairns, where Jen found work as a dive instructor.
It was while there, in 2001, that Andrew decided to design a website and start a mail order company specialising in pilot and flight gear.
Self taught, he set-up a crude version of his current www.pilotshop.co.nz website, with no idea how or if it would work.
Nothing happened for two months "then all of a sudden a sale just popped up. It was someone after quite a rare book. It took a bit of finding but I tracked one down and sent it off and that was the beginning", he said.
Eight months later they arrived in New Zealand and after a short spell with Andrew's parents in Waipukurau they moved to Napier, where Andrew continued running the business from home.
In 2004 they opened their first Pilot Shop in the popular seaside suburb of Ahuriri.
In the years between then and now they've moved premises three times to their present, and best, spot in Tennyson St. They've also had three kids, and have transformed the business to a stage where they can run both the mail order business and the shop from the one site with just one fulltime employee.
"We employed five people at one point. We had some in the shop and some taking care of the orders, but over time we saw it was quite easy for one person to handle both," he said.
Andrew estimates about 95 per cent of business is through orders made online. Half of sales are to Australia and worldwide.
"We get more than 800 hits a day on the website. We'd be lucky to get that many people coming through the shop in six months. But there's no question it's worth having a shop. For keeping us sane, if nothing else," he said.
The shop is open 9am to 5pm five days a week. Most of his shop clients are local pilots. The cruise ship season sees plenty of retired pilots passing through and yakking about their exploits.
"They'll spend ages telling their stories. More often than not they'll leave without buying anything," he says.
Andrew and Jen have an office each in the shop. Jen runs the books. Andrew's in charge of marketing and maintaining the website and keeps an eye out for suitable new products.
The shop's range has expanded over the years to include clothing, accessories, and flight-themed curios for shoppers other than pilots. It started with about 150 products. Now it has more than 2500.
The biggest seller is a Bose pilot's headset that retails for about $1600.
Until recently the shop's biggest month for takings was December 2007.
"We outdid that in the past two months, so things are back to where we were. We're not going to be rich out of this but it gets us by," he said.
Andrew hasn't flown for a while and has let his licence lapse, but aims to get back in the air when his kids get a bit older.
- © Fairfax NZ News