Tales from Tokyo down on the Front Line

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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I may have encountered the best front-line sales associate in travel retail. His name is Take Uehara and he works for JAL Duty Free, the partnership between Japan Airlines and DFS, at Tokyo Narita Airport.

I was transiting in Narita en route from Busan Airport to London Heathrow, just before Christmas. Knowing that my future son-in-law likes a good single malt whisky and knowing the outstanding reputation of Japanese whiskey, I decided I would buy my gift here.

To say that Narita is well-populated with duty free and other stores is an understatement. But not knowing where my gate was relative to the main shopping area, I decided to chance my luck at the first store I saw – JAL Duty Free.

It’s a modest store, tidy enough but not anything to write home about. I suspect its positioned to capture transit passengers like me, stepping off one plane and setting off to find another. But the service… well now, that deserves a whole postbox of letters home.

I stepped into the open-fronted store and headed to the Japanese whiskey section. Within seconds a young male sales associate was by my side. “Can I be of assistance today?” he asked in flawless English and with a wide smile. I told him I was looking for a nice Japanese whisk(e)y. He asked whether it was for a gift, to which I replied in the affirmative.

He suggested I might like to consider Nikka Gold & Gold, a blended whiskey replete with its own metal Samurai helmet. “This is extremely popular with foreign visitors,” he told me, before showing me how the helmet device worked. It was priced at ¥5,000 (about US$45), very good value, in fact, for a whiskey that regularly attracts much higher prices among whisk(e)y collectors outside Japan.

But no, I had my eyes on a single malt. Right beneath it was a lovely looking Yoichi single malt, also from Nikka, at ¥3,750, a brilliant bargain at around US$34. “I’ll take this one, thank you,” I said, moving to pick it up and take to the counter. “No, let me carry it for you,” Take replied. He took it to the counter, made the transaction quickly and sent me on my way by wishing me both a safe flight and Happy Christmas.

Now this young man is clearly well-trained. He knew all about Japanese whiskey (as he should) but his personality was natural, not schooled.

What a huge difference such frontline individuals make to a business. ‘Front Line’ is, in fact, the name of The Moodie Davitt Report’s regular column, in which he put the spotlight on an outstanding member of staff as nominated by travel retailers around the world. It’s one of my favourite elements of what we do, and my only disappointment is that more retailers don’t nominate their people.

Front Line is now being sponsored by, as it happens, a whisky brand – in this case the brilliant industry newcomer from Speyside, Copper Dog (what more appropriate sponsor in the Chinese Year of the Dog?). As part of the sponsorship agreement, each featured Frontliner receives a personalised Copper Dog bottle and dipper from the brand’s home in Speyside.

Excitingly, Copper Dog will host a grand prize draw in late 2018 featuring the previous 12 month’s nominated staff. One lucky Frontliner will win a VIP, all-expenses paid trip to Scotland, staying at the brand’s superb Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside, Scotland.

That’s Copper Dog saying that great staff are worth it. Travel retailers of the world – why don’t you say it too? Let’s hear about (via Martin@MoodieDavittReport.com) all those brilliant sales associates from all over the travel retail planet who not only can make a sale but, as with Take, make a traveller’s day.

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