Airport Retail Takes Flight

by Nate Hunter

The three tends that have emerged in airport retailing, a $5.5 billion industry, in order for airport tenants to achieve success.


Paul McGinnWhen you think of a traditional mall, an airport is not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the airport retail environment represents a $5.5 billion industry that serves billions of passengers every year, according to the Airport Revenue News 2012 Fact Book. Airports offer retailers a 24/7, captive audience to engage in the retail space.

MarketPlace Development is a retail development, leasing and management company that works with airports across the country to develop customized retail programs that cater to the needs of both the airport and its passengers.

MarketPlace Development’s current retail projects include Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal B at La Guardia Airport, Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport. In the company’s more than 20 years of experience, three trends have emerged that must be acknowledged in order for airports and their retailers to achieve success.

Local and National Brands

Unlike a traditional mall, airports are as unique as the cities in which they are based. Frequent travelers and first-time visitors get their first impression of the city upon arrival in the airport and their last taste of the region when they depart.

In the general retail trend to “buy local” — a mix of local, regional and national brands is vital to the success of an airport program. Travelers coming through LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B are instantly in a “New York state of mind” with local tenants such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store, Discover New York and Figs Restaurant by celebrity chef Todd English. At Philadelphia International Airport, passengers will find national brands including Legal Sea Foods, The Body Shop, TUMI, Dunkin’ Donuts, Johnston and Murphy and Swarovski, among others. Right alongside these well-known operations, travelers can get a taste of Philadelphia at Chickie’s & Pete’s, Le Bus Café and Explore Philadelphia.

Outstanding Customer Service

You can have the latest gadgets, the most fashionable apparel and several tasty dining options, but without customer service, these offerings lose all of their appeal. Delivering fast, friendly service is what sets retailers — and airports — apart from their competitors.

At Marketplace’s current airports, a merchant incentive program was designed to motivate and reward merchants for superior customer service. Each merchant can earn points through great customer service and participation in training programs. At the end of each quarter, the food and retail merchants with the most points are named “Merchant of the Quarter,” and at the end of the year, “Merchant of the Year.” Leadership training topics range from “Courtesy Under Pressure” — dealing with unhappy passengers while delivering great service to “Product, Place, Process & People” — how passengers experience the marketplace.

Additionally, regular secret shopping and ongoing customer service evaluation helps to keep the staff on their toes and delivering outstanding service every day.

Adapt to Airport Conditions

While airports represent a captive audience of passengers, this does not guarantee success for food and retail operators. An airport is a complex environment for any merchant to operate. Unlike a mall, the airport’s primary function is transportation, not retail. A successful retailer must adapt to many unique airport challenges such as security restrictions, extended operating hours and small space sizes. Merchants that adapt have found airport shopping and dining to be a phenomenal opportunity with sales that dramatically outpace those achieved in some of the best mall and street locations. Additionally, with the high volume and diverse mix of passengers, many merchants have found their airport location to be a great “billboard” to help market and promote their brand to the region that is served by the airport.


— Paul McGinn is the president of Massachusetts-based MarketPlace Development, which develops, leases and manages airport retail programs across the country. MarketPlace Development works in partnership with airports and airlines to enhance passenger satisfaction and maximize revenue. For more information, please visit


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