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Ads send Frontier sky-high

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Talking animals with a propensity for humor have helped propel Frontier Airlines from a small “spill” carrier to a major force in the industry virtually overnight.

The company, which has painted animals on its tails since it was restarted 10 years ago, decided two years ago it needed to build a brand.

What came out of its research is a tune everybody recognizes as a Frontier Airlines commercial, as well as loveable, talking animals who have relationship, commitment and eating problems everyone can identify with.

It wasn’t just the animals that grew Frontier from a company with 17 aircraft to one with nearly 50 today, said Sean Menke, senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Denver-based airline. It was also the people, he said.

Menke was the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Boulder Regional Business Expo on Wednesday at the Boulder County Fairgrounds.

Frontier’s executives knew that if they wanted the company to be a player in the airline industry, it had to upgrade its equipment and build a brand, said Menke.

The company talked to customers and employees about what they thought the airline needed to succeed, what the airline already did well and what it could do better.

What Frontier found, shocked the company into action.

In Denver, the airline’s hub city, only “four out of 10 people knew where we flew,” Menke said.

The company decided to withdraw all of its marketing from other areas and “hammer away on our hometown,” he said. “If you get people to look at you, you will get customers.”

Frontier also had low loyalty and its focus, up until the beginning of 2003, was on price instead of value.

Sept. 11, the war in Iraq, the growth of the Internet and the rise in energy costs have also had a profound impact on the airlines industry.

Those seminal events forced Frontier to examine everything it offers, including price, service quality, food, comfort and flexibility, Menke said.

Frontier took all of the suggestions it received to heart. The company has been upgrading its fleet and plans to have all brand new Airbus planes by August 2005.

Frontier has no first class. All seats are in economy class.

“We wanted all of our passengers to have the same amenities,” said Menke.

The company widened all of its seats by 1 inch and gave every passenger an additional 2 inches of leg room.

It also added televisions to every seat with access to 24-channel DirecTV.

Menke said he realized that Frontier’s marketing campaign — “A whole different animal” — was working when on a flight to Nashville, Tenn., the pilot came on and said it was time to get Grizwald down because he’s got a long day tomorrow.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

The airline has grown from a $182 million company in 1999 to a $1 billion company in 2004.

Menke’s talk was just one of four seminars offered during the course of the expo. More than 160 exhibitors touted their wares and services.

The event was sponsored by the Boulder Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Longmont chamber’s business expo, which was set to take place July 31 at the Twin Peaks Mall, was canceled due to lack of space. Longmont companies were invited to attend the Boulder Regional event in its place.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.