By Josh Rittenberry
The old saying by Norman Vincent Peale that “empty pockets never held anyone back” is finished with “Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.” Lindsay Chandler has neither an empty head nor an empty heart, but he will be the first to attest that he isn’t a stranger to empty pockets. And for empty pockets, he is grateful.
Growing up in Northeast Arkansas, Lindsay Chandler was immersed in agriculture; his family was the proprietors of Chandler & Chandler Farms in Wilson, AR. His interest in aviation arose in high school when he started taking flying lessons paid for by his mom, Tricia Chandler after she took a second job to cover the cost. Lessons with Mike Schuncke at Osceola Aerial Service began earnestly, with Lindsay intending only to get his Private License. However, as he flew, he also farmed and concluded that, like many farmer-operators, he could utilize his flying skills to treat crops on the family farm.
To get his Commercial License, Lindsay bought an Ag Cat, but the old yellow bird was relegated to storage on the farm property for two years, which changed everything. Jerry, Jeffrey, and Mark Price of D&F Flying Service encouraged Lindsay to move the Ag Cat to their strip so they could show him the ropes and perhaps put him to work.
After much training, Lindsay earned his Commercial License and continued working for D&F Flying Service. He transitioned from the Ag Cat to a Turbine Ag Cat and then an AT502. “That’s when it all ramped up,” Lindsay remembers.
In the winter of 2011, an ample opportunity presented itself. Lindsay jumped at the chance to buy Pruitt Flying Service, a well-established operation with its AT-502, but that also meant saying goodbye to D&F Flying Service and the individuals who had nurtured his skills.
“I had never had a mentor until Jerry and Jeffrey Price came along. They were the key to my success, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without them.”
On his own, Lindsay was assisted in his new operation by former owner Teddy Pruitt, who agreed to stay on and became another influential mentor as Lindsay found his footing. With one loader and a newly hired pilot, Lindsay focused on groundwork and customer relations early on, aspects of the flying service business he had never dealt with and needed to learn quickly.
The new operation took off with immediate success, adding two AT802s in addition to the two AT502s already running. Further growth followed in the next few years with the acquisition of Bright Flying Service and an AT602.
“We had a large fleet but a lot more work. That’s where things started to change.”
At the pinnacle of his professional career, when a business owner should be reaping the rewards, Lindsay began to experience what it was like to take on too much too soon.
“When I bought a fourth airplane, I was on a downturn and didn’t know it.”
Eying the easiest solution before the bubble burst, Lindsay swapped airplanes to make his operation more streamlined with three AT802s. But even more dire straits were still to come. In back-to-back seasons, four of his largest customers invested in their own airplanes, wiping out four lucrative contracts from the books and leading Lindsay to question how long he could afford to stay in business.
“I had gotten so big in business that I forgot my humble beginnings, so I panicked and did something an operator should never do: I cut prices. I did the wrong thing out of a necessity to survive. Cutting prices and buying business doesn’t do anything but hurt everybody.”
In dire financial shape, Lindsay knew he would have to get rid of some debt.
“Wade Castleberry wanted to get involved in the industry in some way. So he saved me by injecting money into the business to keep it going.”
With fresh capital and a more manageable fleet, Lindsay was able to return his focus to managing interests on the ground, including repairing vital business relationships. The newest AT-802 was then traded for an H80 Turbine Thrush, which worked for the next three years until Lindsay realized that he needed more power and speed. With that, he traded the H80 for a 710 Turbine Thrush.
“I fell in love with the Thrush immediately, and it continues to fit my operation well. Each Thrush we operate is stable, safe, and always does excellent work.”
Today, the operation is thriving with the recent addition of a second 710 Thrush from Mid-Continent, which Lindsay describes as “a no-brainer since the first 710 worked out so well.” Lindsay shares flying duties with Steve Bright and Jerry Teague and is in the early stages of training a promising Ag pilot, Thomas Green. In addition, lead ground crewman Brad Duty and secretary Donna Alvarado provide critical support. Lindsay’s wife, Michelle, is also a big part of what keeps the business going, as she oversees much of the complicated bookwork. Lindsay and Michelle are doting parents to Hazel, 9 and Birdie, 5, when they are not in business mode.
“I have worked with some of the best pilots in the industry: Mike Schuncke, Jerry and Jeffrey Price, Steve Bright, Jerry Teague, but by far, the best thing that has ever happened to me was going broke. When I got that first taste of success, I was too big for my britches and became reckless professionally and personally. Being broke forced me to face the downside of success. Thankfully, I’ve had time to correct it.”
More often than not, the result of being broke is having empty pockets. Before Lindsay could imagine all of the ups and downs of his career, he needed help purchasing his first Ag business, so he looked to his reliable dad, the late Gary Chandler, for help. Mr. Chandler invested as a silent partner until 2019. When Lindsay sat in a lawyer’s office to set up the legalities of the new business, including a name, he pondered a moment, then spouted out the first thing that came to his comical mind: Empty Pockets. And then he left. No one ever called the lawyer back to change the business to a more serious name; thus, Empty Pockets Flying Service was born.
The business name Lindsay intended to be a joke was the saving grace that has never held him back.