Industry meets to discuss solutions to challenges facing airport retail
By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor
PHILADELPHIA - A retail conference held here in June promised three master concessionaires as featured speakers - two showed up. Reflections of an industry that has struggled since 9/11. That struggle, changing customer needs, and revamping retail were all part of the discussion during the two-day session.
The concession managers and retailers welcomed the two master concessionaires presenting at the conference: Anton Airfood, Inc. and Marketplace Redwood. Organized by the World
Research Group, the retail conference was open, intimate, and for many, a more conducive environment for sharing ideas. Perhaps the lack of a more predominant presence means airports are moving away from the days of master concessionaires, or at least considering alternatives.
Pampering Passengers Pays Off
Keeping airport retail fresh and inviting means staying abreast of trends, passenger needs, and discovering new ways to meet those needs. Providing spa services, such as manicures and massage, is offering travelers a relaxing way to spend their newly increased time at airports.
many other retail concepts in airports, spa services have seen increases
in revenue since September 11. Kristin Rhyne, president of Polished,
Inc., which provides manicures, massage, and cosmetics, attributes
the rise to the ability of these services to reduce stress. According
to Rhyne, heightened security issues, uncertainty of the security
process, and flight delays have encouraged travelers to pamper themselves.
Massage Bar, Inc. led the way in 1994 by providing seated chair massage in Terminal C of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Since then, the company has added two additional airport locations, and has seen an annual growth rate of approximately 20 percent each year.
At Calgary International Air-port, Suzanne Letourneau, a former flight attendant and spa director, operates O2ra Oxygen Spa, offering yet another alternative for weary or stressed travelers. The concept, which provides oxygen treatments, manicures, pedicures, and massage, was successful enough in Calgary that Letourneau has since opened a location at Detroit Wayne County Metropolitan Airport, with more locations planned.
Retail at sea-tac
Linda LaCombe, manager of retail/concessions development at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, says the airport has been planning for changes in the concessions program for the past six years. In 2004, the 40-year lease the airport has with HMSHost will expire and LaCombe says the airport is looking at bringing in other concessionaires and opening the retail program up to independent leases as well.
"We want to give customers options and make them more comfortable," she says. Currently the airport offers such amenities as a massage facility, meditation area, and a chapel and is looking at expanding with an exercise room, a clinic, expanded technology opportunities, and more. A pre-security meeter/ greeter area with a retail presence is also under consideration.
Paul Brown, president and CEO of Paul Brown Consulting and former executive director of Airport Retail Management for O'Hare Internation-al and Midway Airports, reminds retailers and concession managers to "think about what's going on in the buyer's mind."
Because of 9/11 and increased security, "People are acting differently in airports," Brown says. "We (airports) have dictated this to passengers. We are not creating an environment conducive to making people want to buy anything. People have more free time, but they are now fatigued, irritated, and frustrated."
Brown suggests retailers consider the following tactics for revamping the shopping experience for customers:
o begin looking at the airport as two separate markets, pre-security and post-security,
o shift emphasis on how to spend passenger free time - people have more time to shop, but is that really something they want to do?,
o sell "experiences" that can be consumed on and off the airport,
o expand our vision of what adequate services are,
o develop more experience-based retail, such as virtual reality games and movies,
o expand the availability of quality personal services including nails, hair, spa, and massage,
o make an investment in business services and landside conference facilities.
Know Your Market
Defining who the customer is at each airport is essential to making any retail concept work profitably, according to Paul Fetscher, president of Great American Brokerage Inc., and conference chairman. And, in knowing your market, it's equally important to understand that airports and the markets they serve are generally drastically different. "We are in a challenging environment," Fetscher says. "there is no one slam-dunk solution for every airport. We need to understand where we are before we can decide what we need to do and what tools and resources we need to get there."
Diane Pryor-Vercelli, senior director of properties and contracts administration at Tampa International Airport, agrees there "is no cookie cutter approach to airport concessions."
Tampa is an O&D market, with a roughly equal split between business and leisure travelers. Following 9/11, Vercelli says the airport saw an immediate 20 percent drop in revenue. To better understand the decline and properly remedy the situation, Vercelli began monitoring concessions on a daily basis.
As a result of the drop in concession sales, two airside retail locations were closed, but have since reopened. By January 2002, Vercelli says the airport suspended daily concession reporting and by May traffic was down by only 5.4 percent, while airside and landside retail saw increases of 7 and 11 percent, respectively.
Retail opportunities at Tampa International Airport, along with the nation's other airports, will be challenged in the upcoming months by any mandates the TSA puts forth. "We have to rethink our capital development," Vercelli says. Already, she comments, the airport has been informed they will need to allow 10,000 square feet for office space for the TSA. Additionally, the airport has concerns about the ability of the floor to support the massive baggage screening equipment the TSA is requiring.
In 1995, Tampa International Airport began a Concession Improvement Trust Agreement (CIT). Under this agreement, 3 percent of gross retail and 4.5 percent of gross food and beverage sales are due to the airport authority, over and above rent. CIT was designed to cover costs of future concession development.
Vercelli says Tampa International Airport is in the process of completing a $24 million expansion project. The airport also expects to spend $24-$30 million to adapt to future TSA mandates.
While many airport concession managers suggest travelers are dissatisfied with prices at airports, research performed by J.D. Power & Associates and presented by its travel services group director, Michael Taylor, shows price has very little impact on customer satisfaction. As Fetscher suggests, "People don't mind paying more if they feel they've gotten value out of it. If costs are higher, prices need to be higher - but they need to be reasonable."
Amy Shaw, manager of concessions at Denver International Airport, says she allows tenants to dictate their own "fair pricing" by using local, comparable businesses, but it must fall "somewhere between the street and resort/special retail locations."