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Less than 48 hours ago, I was walking by the river Spey in deepest, most delightful Speyside. This morning I am taking the red-eye British Airways flight from Oslo Airport to Heathrow, having spent the night at the airport’s Radisson Blue hotel. The delightful Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside it is not, but as airport hotels go (and I wish some would), it’s pretty good.
My whistle-stop visit to Oslo was to preview the new Heinemann Duty Free (Travel Retail Norway) Arrivals shop – at 3,500sq m (soon to be 4,000sq m) the world’s biggest. You can see my full report here but in the more informal voice of my Blog, I have to say that this shop has the wow factor written all over each and every one of those square metres.
Regular readers of this Blog will not be surprised that my eye was immediately drawn to the wine department. Then again, one would have to be acutely myopic for it not to be. This is wine retailing on a grand scale, some 700 different lines, ranging from Opus 1 behind temperature-controlled glass to easy-drinking whites, reds and roses. The deliciously rich red design (inspired by grapevines) just leaps out at you, drawing you into the area and all the delights that await. The great Italian winemaker Masi must love this place – there seems to be more Masi wine here than in the whole of Verona.
Buying tobacco in many airport duty free shops today is akin to entering some kind of illicit drug den, hidden as they are behind walls with all but the most basic signage removed. Not at Oslo Airport.
Heinemann has done brilliantly here in working within the rules but still making the area attractive and eminently shoppable. From the main walkway all the passenger sees is a sign saying ‘Tobacco’ (what else do you need?) and what looks like a (rather attractive) brick wall. But when you get closer you realise it’s not a Trump-like barrier to illicit immigration into the tobacco department but a very arty veneer (apparently based on a photo that one of the Heinemann design team took in Cuba) that runs throughout the zone.
Combine that effect with wooden floors; a roomy interior; high, white ceilings; a temperature controlled interior; a brilliant display of the local chewing tobacco snus; and a walk-in humidor and you have the category treated with the respect it too often doesn’t get as a wholly legal product. I don’t think I have seen a more attractive, almost arty tobacco department in duty free. Bravo.
There’s plenty else to admire too: Norwegian Aquavit and craft beers (a fantastic selection) are given space and prominence; the beauty offer has been impressively upgraded from the old store; the impressively colourful confectionery category offers everything from count lines to gourmet chocolate; and (best of all) two giant (and I mean giant) LED screens not only promote the offers of the day but also showcase some of Norway’s most stunning tourist destinations.
Travel retailers often talk about their shops being part of the journey – well here’s a retailer taking that claim seriously. The logistics are impressive too – 43 cashier points and a supply chain second to none tucked in behind the shop. Such things matter when you are making a sale every two seconds. This is Heinemann at its legendarily efficient best.
Overall, the store is big, bold (but not brash) and in many ways beautiful. And how often can you say that about an Arrivals duty free shop where the focus is understandably on selling large volumes very quickly?
I didn’t get to catch the first customers coming through this morning (pictured below) on a flight from Reykjavik but based on my experience of the old Arrivals shop 24 hours earlier, I have no doubt that the penetration rates will be extraordinary.
Today, bleary-eyed, I visited the Heinemann Duty Free Departures shop, which features a well-ranged, beautifully designed Norwegian products section. It was noticeable how many people rushed into the Norwegian confectionery area, in particular, and grabbed an item or two to add to their baskets. Build it and they will come.
The queues (rapidly handled) at the cash desks (pictured below) told their own story. I wonder if Gunnar and Claus Heinemann cheer themselves up whenever they hear gloomy news from Turkey or Russia by looking at images from the Oslo check-out counters. I’m sure, especially after today’s Arrivals shop opening, they must have a very uplifting effect indeed.