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IGUANA UPHOLSTERY? IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO FLY

It takes almost as much labor to outfit the interior of a Gulfstream--25,000 to 30,000 hours--as it does to build the plane. While Gulfstream is loath to play with the architecture of the cabin, it offers a bewildering variety of custom-made furnishings in every imaginable material and color--most of which are handmade by Gulfstream workers.

One of the first G Vs to roll off the Savannah (Ga.) assembly line is being turned out almost entirely in turquoise. A pink rug decorated with blue clouds and seats covered in four different colors of embossed iguana and pig suede complete the decor. Gulfstream will not identify the customer, but it's safe to say that she--the company does confirm that the owner is a woman--does not run General Electric Corp. or IBM.

Although CEOs of public companies are less flamboyant in their tastes, they tend to take no less personal an interest. Many hire designers and bring their spouses along to planning sessions. ''I'd say the principal signs off on 95% of all the stuff we do,'' says James Swindells, Gulfstream's vice-president for completion services.

HUSH AND PLUSH. The typical owner spends about $3.8 million to outfit a G IV and about $4.6 million on the larger G V. In both cases, this sum covers top-of-the-line stereo sound and video systems as well as a lavishly equipped galley. At about $12,000 a square foot, it is far more expensive to decorate a Gulfstream than even the most opulent home. Elaborate engineering is needed to minimize the weight of every object in the cabin while meeting demanding safety standards and customer expectations of comfort and style. And one of the most luxurious aspects of the G V is invisible: Gulfstream says the G V is the quietest corporate jet in existence, ''with a cabin as hushed as the quietest luxury sedan.''

Increasingly, Gulfstream buyers are opting for a $400,000 advanced satellite communications system that is installed in the tail and lets passengers telephone, fax, and E-mail with abandon.

Completing the interiors is high-margin work, but Gulfstream did not put much emphasis on it until William W. Boisture joined the company in early 1994 as its senior marketing executive. At the time, about a quarter of its customers were opting to have their planes finished by outside companies. ''We had to get the sales force to realize it was their job to sell the entire airplane,'' Boisture says. Message received: All but four of the 115 planes that Gulfstream has sold since the beginning of 1995 will be completed in-house.

By Anthony Bianco in Savannah, Ga.


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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