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"A taste of place: How airports decide what to sell in their stores"

Saturday, January 28, 2017
A taste of place: How airports decide what to sell in their stores
By Harriet Baskas
USA Today

Hard-to-resist warm cookies, smartly branded bottled water, and a line of 
cannabis-themed health and beauty products promising to make you feel great, 
but not get you high.

These were just some of the products displayed recently at an "opportunities 
summit" designed to help small businesses from the Pacific Northwest get their 
foot in the door at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which saw more than 
$250 million in sales in 2016.

Federal funding mandates that airports create concessions opportunities for 
small, disadvantaged and/or local business and the Port of Seattle, Sea-Tac's 
operator, is determined to both significantly increase representation by these 
vendors at the airport and boost the airport's unique and local feel.

To that end, the airport's outreach event included information-packed how-to 
panels and a fair to introduce existing airport vendors to hopeful new ones and 
plant seeds for new partnerships and stand-alone concessions.

Deborah Tuggle, president of Bite Me! Inc., was on site with "That Cookie," 
made with domestic walnuts and Belgian chocolate, a product that's already a 
bestseller in one of the region's gourmet grocery chains, where the cookies are 
sold warm.

"I know people will buy this cookie at the airport," said Tuggle, who envisions 
either a stand-alone warm-cookie kiosk or a partnership with another vendor at 
the airport and $3 million in annual airport cookie sales.

Bottled water is a big seller at any airport and identical twin brothers John 
and William Longley were hoping to get placement for their bottles of "Plane 
Water," which are filled with water from springs discovered by pioneers along 
the Oregon Trail.

The Longley brothers got the idea for their product while working at an airport 
shop that didn't sell water. Instead of sending customers elsewhere, they 
created their own bottled water to sell in the shop and are now determined to 
broaden their distribution.

The health and beauty products Cannabis Basics founder Aimee Warner had on 
display caught the eye of Mike Petersen, senior vice president of operations at 
Hudson Group in Seattle, as a possible line to carry in the company's airport 

"You want to be the first, to be trendsetting, to have the new big thing," he 
said. And even though Warner assured him the products could cross state lines 
legally, Petersen said, "We'll need to run this by legal and make sure we are 
protecting the brand."

While taking a small business into an airport comes with its own set of 
challenges, those that are successful can reap big rewards, said Deborah 
McElroy, executive vice president of airport membership organization ACI-NA.

"Airports are the front door of the community and the last memory, and they 
serve people from all over the country and around the world. So it's not only 
an opportunity to shine on the local level, airports give local businesses a 
national stage."

Like SEA, other airports around the country are being proactive about bringing 
unique, local vendors from the community into the terminals.

San Francisco International Airport is currently in year three of a five-year 
Pop-Up Retail Program that allows local businesses to test new concepts in a 
gate area of the airport where over 3 million people pass by each year.

"Airport staff actively reach out to San Francisco Bay Area businesses and host 
informational sessions," said SFO spokesman Doug Yakel.

Right now the Exploratorium and Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier have set up shop 
in SFO's pop-up spaces. In May, they will be replaced by San FranCycle and NYS 
Collection Eyewear.

Denver International Airport has a small business-oriented cart and kiosk 
program managed by PRI, a specialty retail licensing firm.

There are about 40 locations throughout the airport, which generated over $18.2 
million in gross sales in 2016.

"Staff of the company that operates the program canvass constantly for new 
local concepts and operators in Denver and Colorado, including juried crafts 
shows, neighborhoods and local shopping centers," said airport spokesman Heath 
Montgomery. "They also pursue local manufacturers and distributors."

Beyond local programs, national airport conferences offer some vendors an 
opportunity to get their brands better known.

For example, the annual Airport Revenue News conference and exhibition features 
a Shark Tank-like session where new companies can pitch concepts and get 
feedback from airport decision-makers.

"In the past we had Camille's Hand Dipped Ice Cream Bars, Firkin Pubs and a 
vaping company," said ARN publisher Ramon Lo. "This year the line-up include 
Smoke's Poutinerie, a hangover prevention drink called Never Too Hung Over and 
Roam Fitness," a woman-owned company that is about to open its first 
post-security fitness club at BWI Airport.

Cynthia Sandall, co-founder and CMO of Roam Fitness, says she's not too nervous 
about going before the panel.

"When you've been living and breathing your startup business you know every 
fact inside and out," said Sandall. "That being said, it's always great to get 
a new question or a variation of an old one that makes us think about a certain 
aspect in a new light."
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