Reading the latest column from Peter Marshall’s Blog TRunblocked called Revelations of an Airport Agony Aunt brought to mind a similar initiative I launched at DFNI which I ran from 1992 to 2002 as Editor and later Managing Director.
Each April 1 for several years we published not just an April Fool’s story but a full-blown April Fool’s supplement. Although all the stories were spoofs, some proved pretty convincing.
Such was DFS’s domination of the Japanese travel shopping market at the time, for example, that our 1996 story headlined ‘DFS Group buys Japan’ proved a little too close for comfort for Hakubotan, the retailer’s then-rival on Guam. “Please could you provide us with some more details as we are very concerned about this development,” the owner wrote to me.
Another story, titled ‘Johnnie Walker targets Pink Pound’ featured the familiar Scotch whisky bottle in resplendent Pink hues with the iconic striding man’s top hat and white jodhpurs being replaced by a jewelled Village People black hat, tight leather trousers and a string vest. Abu Dhabi Duty Free duly placed an order, only to be told by a bemused United Distillers (now Diageo) that no such product existed.
On 1 April 1997 we announced a ‘world first’ as BAA (the then-operator of numerous UK airports) banned all planes from its locations to concentrate exclusively on its burgeoning retail empire.
Asked if the lack of aircraft might affect spend-per-passenger, BAA Retail Director Barry Gibson said, “Not really. You’ve got to understand that their dwell time will be significantly increased once they realise there’s nothing to board. They’re bound to shop. It’s brilliant.”
The same year we also related an unexpected boost to the campaign to save intra-EU duty free from abolition. Readers learned that Iran had applied to join the European Union and that the Persian solar calendar stood at the year 1376. “This could mean a 623-year extension for duty free,” said a hopeful IDFC (now Duty Free World Council) Chairman Frank O’Connell, pointing out that the association was lobbying hard for Brussels to extend the Persian time-frame to the industry.
But perhaps the highlight was our own Agony Aunt column, dubbed ‘Aunt DaFNI’s problem page’. As the image shows, Aunt DaFNI was a particularly furocious character and never one to hold back on her opinions.
“Dear Dafni,” wrote one correspondent. “I think my customer is seeing another supplier. I’m not 100% certain but all the tell-tale signs are there – lipstick on the shelves in a shade that I never sold; POS materials in his store that I didn’t give him; a company tie I’ve never seen before; and even a photograph in a lightbox in his shop!
“I am scared to ask the question outright for fear of hearing the truth and I can’t bear the thought of sharing his facings with anyone else. How can I show him I know what’s going on and get him to call it off?”
Aunt DaFNI wrote back. “Retail customers often indulge in this behaviour, especially around mid-concession.
“They need reassurance that they are still attractive to suppliers, and may flirt outrageously with anyone who has nice packaging and huge A&P budgets. But don’t despair. Most customers find these flings unsatisfying after a few months and return to the stability of their regular suppliers.
“Are you sure you’re keeping the magic alive in your relationship, or are you getting into a rut, taking your customer for granted? Try a little GWP or some really sexy merchandising. He’ll soon come back to you.”
There’s a great denouement to that story. Aunt DaFNI was, in fact, a certain industry supplier with a brilliant sense of humour. And that same supplier happened to attend a meeting at the Orlando duty free show with Alpha Retail (long since subsumed into what is now Dufry), led by formidable CEO Hilary Lewis. As the meeting began, Hilary, flanked by her team, said, “Before we start, I just want to read you something. It’s bloody brilliant!” It was, of course, Aunt DaFNI’s column. But like all good agony aunts, the supplier turned human adviser remained discreet to the end.