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November 19, 2008 6:54 PM

Beauty, Business, Retail

Giving Duty Free a Facelift

The global financial meltdown already has resulted in reports of dips in airport traffic, the main engine of the travel retail business, and some shop operators are predicting a flat traffic pattern for 2009, resulting in, at best, moderate...



The global financial meltdown already has resulted in reports of dips in airport traffic, the main engine of the travel retail business, and some shop operators are predicting a flat traffic pattern for 2009, resulting in, at best, moderate sales increases. This has prompted some to suggest retailers and vendors have to do a better job of luring travelers into their stores and closing a sale. According to estimates, only 25 to 30 percent of passengers now patronize duty free shops. So, the task now is to start converting the other 70 percent.


That certainly seems to be the goal of the Hamburg, Germany-based Heinemann, one of the most influential duty free operators in Europe with 250 stores. Raoul Spanger, retail director, said that what the travel retail category needs is a massive infusion of personality. To that end, his company is opening a daring new concept shop on Dec. 4 in Hamburg Airport called Heinemann Duty Free, which represents a gutsy departure from the monotonous tradition of giving generic names to shops.

But Spanger thinks it's time. If you are not happy in a duty free store, to whom do you complain 'Mr. Duty Free'?" he asked rhetorically. It is important, he argued, to put a face on the store. To back that up, there will be customer services offered, such as gift wrapping. The sales staff is expected to exude warmth and empathy. If that isn't revolutionary enough, Heinemann also plans to present what Spanger describes as "more surprising" product assortments. He said 80 percent of the merchandise will be in the traditional mold. But the remaining 20 percent will be hand-picked to play on a theme, like "Casino Mondial," complete with a roulette wheel. He promises that when the 15,000-square-foot store opens it will represent "a quantum leap."

That will be true for Heinemann. It could be true for the entire industry, and it certainly will be true for weary travelers, who would like to spend some money just to relieve the boredom of being trapped in an airport as they wait for their inevitably delayed flight to take off.
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