Drone business is soaring

After launching Drones Plus online in 2013, Mike Thorpe and his co-founder, Marcus Mizzi, decided letting potential buyers touch the merchandise made a lot of sense. After all, with prices soaring toward $15,000, they’d moved from a hobbyist retailer to a serious commercial supplier.

The Las Vegas entrepreneurs opened the company’s first retail store last June on South Decatur Boulevard. And they haven’t looked back.

“We opened the retail part of it for the simple fact that the online store was doing well and we wanted to offer a retail establishment where people can buy drones,” he said. “Unlike most products, the customer needs to be taught how to use it and offering a hands-on experience allows us to offer something our competitors don’t.”

Today, Drones Plus has opened 15 stores across the nation and Canada.

“We took a look at where we were shipping the drones the most and decided to put a footprint in the areas that don’t have a huge competitive marketplace,” Thorpe said. “We’re in eight states now and are project to be in 25 by the end of next year.”

Choosing Las Vegas to debut Drones Plus was an easy decision, Thorpe said.

“Nevada is a very tax friendly state and it’s close to our central distribution hub on the west coast,” he said. “The weather is also really nice.”

Thorpe said many of Drones Plus customers include everyone from hobbyists looking to get into the drone world to realtors and filmmakers.

“Everything’s changed because of drone use,” he said. “Realtors can fly a drone in the sky to get a bird’s eye view of a property they’re trying to sell and even roofers and solar panel installers can get an exact understanding of the roofs on houses without having to spend a ton of extra money.”

The average price of a drone that is equipped with a GPS feature at Drones Plus is $1,000, Thorpe said. They also offer toy drones that start at $29 and are geared toward beginners.

In late-October the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for all aspects of American civil aviation, announced that it will be subjecting non-commercial drones to the same registration and regulation policies as commercially-operated unmanned aircrafts.

“Right now we’re kind of in the wild west od drone use because there’s nothing set in stone, there are just guidelines that have been proposed so nothing is concrete,” Thorpe said. “We not only support the FAA but hope to facilitate their registration process in our major retail markets so people can register their drones at our stores instead of being put through a DMV-type process.”

Thorpe said he’s anticipating that his business, which boasts nearly 55 employees and $10 million in annual sales, will benefit once the FAA puts rules and regulations for drones into place.

“It’s important to make sure that everyone is on the same page so people know what they can and cannot do with their drone,” he said. “From a business perspective, I think once there are solidified rules it will help us sell more drones because people will know what to expect whereas right now they don’t.”

Drones Plus will be spending the next couple of months gearing up for the Christmas season.

“Drones were hot last year and we’re hoping to see our sales increase ten-fold,” Thorpe said. “We sell drones up to $15,000 and we have a good relationship with our suppliers so they’ll have us stocked throughout the season.”

In the future, Thorpe said he is focused on growing the retail side of Drones Plus in an effort to make his business a household name.

“I’d like to maintain our dominance in the marketplace and be known as the go-to place for drones, which we are right now, but we want to be able to do it in a bigger way,” he said. “We’d like to expand throughout the country to allow our footprint and brand to grow and serve the drone needs of all major cities.”

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