A pioneering location’s major makeover

Shannon Airport occupies a special place in the hearts of many travel retail people. The birthplace of duty free in 1947, courtesy of the industry’s founding father Brendan O’Regan, it’s a location that you’ll hear name-checked in every continent where duty free retailers ply their trade.

It may be widely celebrated, but in recent years Shannon Airport has seen some hard times since its heyday as a crossroads between Europe and North America, and as the one-time hugely lucrative refuelling stop for Aeroflot flights to the Americas.

With fewer than 2 million passengers a year, it has suffered heavy losses with the slashing of many Ryanair services, and its status as the major link between Ireland and the US has diminished.

Financial losses of around €8 million a year put Shannon in a difficult position in an Irish economy that is suffering badly. Government is set to review the state-owned status of both Shannon and Cork in the months ahead, with no certainty over the outcome.

But even against that backdrop, there is hope. A recent report by global consultancy firm Booz & Co, prepared for the government, said that Shannon has a viable future but that it needs to be removed from under the wing of the Dublin Airport Authority and that it should be allowed to develop its own routes and niche activities. Clare or Limerick County Councils could possibly control the facility, argues the report, with a third party concessionaire managing the airport, it adds.

Even with a future that is unclear, DAA has committed to a major (and long overdue) investment in the shopping facilities at Shannon, which came to life last week (see images above and below).

We travelled through the airport on Monday and the €1 million upgrade has resulted in a brighter, far smarter look. The store remains large for an airport of this size, but it hangs together better than it did before, with white walls, modern signage and improved merchandising throughout.

The best of the DAA brand The Loop has been imported from Dublin – notably The Irish Whiskey Collection (below) and souvenir concept Irish Memories, while the Glenaran gift concession is a step up on the crystalware corner that previously existed here. The whiskey unit in particular drew a lot of attention during our short visit, with the range of Irish whiskies stronger than you’ll see at most airports anywhere, with the exception of the fully fledged concept in Dublin.

It’s a shop that works around fewer skus and best sellers, and categories such as beauty – which looks to have good support from leading brands – have benefited from the new approach (below).

Speaking to The Moodie Report in September, ARI Chief Executive Jack MacGowan said: “Shannon has been tough but we have made many changes and it’s back to being cash-positive. If we continue with the passenger flow that will be a profitable shop in the long term. The principle is to make it easier for people to shop and to find what they want, and to make the range less complex.”

We think the retailer has achieved that, and know that industry people around the world will wish this business well. After all, it’s the spiritual home of duty free.

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