With summer's busy travel season just days away from takeoff, shops and eateries at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are revving their hiring engines with jobs for on-the-go salespeople who want to keep their feet on the ground.
This spring "is the most robust hiring season since pre-9/11," says Airport Jobs Program manager Ruth Westerbeck. "Hiring has now flip-flopped. It's now a job-seekers' market. We have a number of employers who are anxious to fill openings. These are employers who place a very strong emphasis on customer service. Their shops and restaurants are high-volume places operating in a 24/7 facility."
Sales positions are open throughout the airport from buy-and-go newsstands to stop-and-shop art boutiques. A rebound in air travel since late 2001 is fueling much of this hiring.
Another reason airport sales staff hiring is up: more shops at the airport. Sea-Tac's architecturally stunning central terminal expansion, which marks its first anniversary this month, features Pacific Marketplace a 130,000-square-foot hub for 20 brand-name food and retail establishments.
"Pacific Marketplace has definitely made [sales] candidates much more aware of job opportunities," according to Evan Schut, Sea-Tac general manager for the Hudson Group, the nation's largest travel-hub retailer, which owns and operates 22 newsstands, specialty stores, and food and beverage shops at the airport.
Formerly with Safeway, Schut knows firsthand the difference between outside and airport sales.
"Prior to Pacific Marketplace, I never dreamed of working in the airport, but it's creating so much publicity, people are now seeking it out for their sales careers," he says.
Schut now supervises Sea-Tac's Hudson Group staff of 200. "It's not like operating a Target store," he says. "Logistically, between traffic and security, it's a challenge. People we hire must be able to multitask and be extremely organized."
With Sea-Tac's expansion, the Hudson newsstands "our bread and butter" are now part of an airport family of shops that includes specialty souvenir shops, many of them with a local flair.
As part of its long-range vision, Sea-Tac and Port of Seattle officials worked to attract locally owned companies that would infuse a Northwest flavor into shops and eateries.
One such company is Fireworks Gallery. The Seattle-based arts and fine crafts retailer opened its fifth store at the airport because "tourists and travelers are very enthusiastic about experiencing Northwest art," according to operations and hiring manager Pauline Cooper.
Even though its sales-floor space is smaller than that of its downtown Seattle and Bellevue galleries, Fireworks' airport gallery staffing is often more than double that of other shops, she says. The airport's heavy shopping traffic demands it.
"People who work in airport sales have an incredible affinity for people," Cooper says. "These are people who want to work at the airport. They like the international feel. They like customers coming and going. They like the general energy. It does take an experienced staff because they're working a fast pace. Not only do you need to be taking care of the customer in front of you, but you need to recognize the customer one and two places down the line."
Airport sales venues require longer hours for staffing. While some shops are open round-the-clock, others operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days a year unlike their outside-the-airport relatives. While part-time openings are available, full-time candidates are typically preferred.
"Many newcomers at most shops can count on working at least some evenings, nights and holidays," says Westerbeck.
High customer volume also is attracting new shops to the airport. Many are drawn by the almost captive audience of passengers often ready with flush wallets and time on their hands as they wait for hours behind security checkpoints for their flights to depart.
Sea-Tac carefully limits the number of sales venues, but one soon-to-be-newcomer The Rose Box will open two floral kiosks in June.
"One of the things we're stressing in hiring is a professional approach," says Rose Box founder Mark Stuart. "My salespeople must have confidence that they can promote with sophisticated passengers."
Stuart's eventual hires will join other airport sales staff in meeting Sea-Tac's security requirements. Background checks and fingerprinting are part of hiring programs. Once cleared, employees' badges allow them to use express lanes they share with airline crew members to move beyond security checkpoints.
Hiring managers say wages are typically about the same as they would be outside the airport. Schut says many sales managers consider advancement opportunities in their choice. Not only can they move up within a single airport, he says, but airport sales professionals' skills are also transferable and promotion-worthy to other airports and to venues outside Sea-Tac.
Big numbers: $750 million the amount spent by air travelers on apparel, shoes and other merchandise at the top 50 U.S. airports in 2004.
$7.97 the average concession spending per passenger at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 2005. That's up from $6.96 in 2004.
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