The Liberty Gazette
May 14, 2013Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Hal was an engineering student at Purdue University when he began his flight training. The year was 1958, and the young entrepreneur and aviator faced his future with a passion for life. By 1961 Hal had become a flight instructor, and a few years later he had earned the highest general certificate, the airline transport pilot certificate. Supplementing his flight instructor income, he began selling a special radio by mail order. This multi-transistor VHF/AM portable radio called "Channel Master" would receive the frequencies used by airport control towers. Hal, being an active part of the aviation community, knew his customers well – what pilot wouldn’t want a radio that would allow him or her to listen to air traffic? Still today, student pilots often log on to LiveATC.net to listen in to pilots and controllers, finding it helpful in learning the lingo. Hal must have understood the value in that. His Studebaker doubled as a warehouse for the radios as he took orders and shipped his first product to his customers.
His great enthusiasm for aviation led him to develop a three-day ground school course which so impressed industry leaders that the largest aviation organization – the Aircraft Owners and Pilots’ Association, with over 400,000 members – quickly picked up Hal’s course and began offering it around the country.
The Studebaker had become Sporty’s Pilot Shop, which today, 52 years later, is recognized around the world as the place to go for aviation products. The business has grown and sprouted other several aviation businesses at the airport in Batavia, Ohio, just outside Cincinnati. Operating 14 aircraft, managing the airport, running the FBO (meaning they sell fuel, provide maintenance, etc.), an avionics shop, two flight schools, and aircraft sales keep Hal and Sandy Shevers busy. As if all that weren’t enough, Hal and Sandy also have educational videos produced right there in their large two-story headquarters.
Was it the radio that started it all? Maybe. Sort of. But it’s more than that. I think Hal’s success has come largely because of his ability to relate to people. It takes so much more than being a salesman. I’ve met some salesman types I wouldn’t even trust enough to sell me a candy bar. But for Hal Shevers, recipient of the Boy Scouts’ Distinguished Eagle, and inductee into the National Association of Flight Instructors Hall of Fame, customer service takes top priority. If a customer has a problem with a product they purchased from Sporty’s, Hal will get on the phone and work out the problem himself. It’s not that he doesn’t have excellent staff – he does – but he’s that committed to setting the standard for true service, something that seems to be a dying art these days.
Hal and Sandy and their dedicated team can be found cooking hot dogs every Saturday from noon until two for pilots who want to fly in and shoot the breeze, and the annual Sporty’s Fly-In – coming up this Saturday to coincide with International Learn to Fly Day – draws a huge crowd of airplane lovers, each one hoping to be the winner of the Sporty’s Sweepstakes airplane, a brand new Legend Cub.
Not bad for a kid selling radios by mail order from his car.