Bravo to Boss, and bon, bon Marché!

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Another day on the road, this time out of Heathrow Terminal 1 to Zürich Airport and back in the space of a few hours, enough time to see our industry at work on a good, bad and indifferent level.

Heathrow T1 is like an old family pet that sadly is showing its age and will soon require putting down. It was opened in 1968 and was for a time the biggest short-haul terminal in Western Europe.

When the swanky, long-anticipated Terminal 2 becomes operational, possibly in January 2014, T1 will close, along with an era in UK aviation history.

Given its imminent closure, investment levels are obviously slight, a necessary context in which to place any criticism. Many of the retailers here have outstanding outlets in other Heathrow terminals. But I fly Swiss frequently, necessitating the use of T1, and it’s fair to say the terminal is not the greatest advertisement for Britain or for BAA.

It took me about 15 minutes to clear security, not that bad but the more important negative is the dark, intimidating environment that the consumer has to endure and I don’t use the word lightly. I am probably among the top 10% of regular travellers through Heathrow, yet never, never, never do I feel relaxed about clearing security at T1.

They always tell me I can leave my shoes on. I always beep. I am always told to put my shoes back through the scanning machine. I am seldom told it with any grace (I know it’s a tough job but, hey, a little Incheon-style courtesy would go a long way).

Shoes and belt back on, one reels straight into the commercial zone, the short and ugly ‘transition’ area softened slightly by an advertising campaign for Grey Goose vodka. Personally I’d target the space at belt suppliers, slip on shoe brands or anger management courses, they could make a fortune.

T1 is the classic curate’s egg in terms of its commercial proposition. When it’s good it’s very good. When it’s not, it’s awful – and often the disparity is just metres apart. I was in a rush – security had assured that – so I didn’t have much chance to review many of the outlets but here are some casual consumer observations.

Travelex: An ugly, utilitarian outlet. But the counter assistant Virginia was top-notch, reminding me to claim my loyalty points on my BA card and generally going out of her way to make a commodity transaction a pleasant experience. A great example of how staff can make a difference.

WH Smith: I have seen several much-improved WHSmith stores but this isn’t one of them I’m afraid. On the day I was there it was dark, cluttered and the queue anaconda like. The retailer’s need to pack as much product into a confined space is understandable but it’s hard to feel that shopping here is anything but a chore. Compare and contrast with the same retailer’s main T4 outlet.

World Duty Free (store one): A neat and tidy sampler of the bigger store further along the terminal but why the old company logo [Pictured below] when a more recent one is in place at the main shop nearby?

World Duty Free (right hand side): I first learned about the importance of clean, clear sight lines from World Duty Free. Here you’d have to be walking on stilts to be able to see from one side of the store to the other. So what happened? The beauty offer is sometimes dowdy (what a contrast from the lovely T4 store, for example), the liquor and tobacco proposition adequate and the confectionery proposition unexciting to say the least.

World Duty Free (left hand side, dedicated to beauty products): And yet… less than a dozen Toblerone-lengths away from all that mediocrity, stands this upscale, elegant expression of what one of our industry’s top retailers can (and usually does) achieve. Cool, clean, classy.

Chocolate Box (The Nuance Group): Better than it was (which isn’t hard) after the last makeover but it still does not sparkle. Contrast and compare with the same retailer’s magnificent Lindt boutique at Zürich Airport.  I might be wrong but I think specialist retailing, especially with such a great platform as chocolate, can aspire to more than this.

Hugo Boss: I shop at this store often and I never see it have a bad day. The display is always immaculate, the staff always attentive – it’s understated, professional elegance scores for me every time.

And so to Zürich Airport…

I must say I felt bad about the footfall rates into the new (non walk-through) Arrivals store because it deserves to be successful. In a purely unscientific exercise I counted the first 100 travellers to exit the Arrivals zone. Fewer than 10% entered the duty free store.

No doubt the conversion rate was lower still. That’s a shame as the shop is nicely segmented, well ranged and generally a quality act. What a pity about the strong Swiss Franc, which I suspect is the major deterrent.

After a quick, enjoyable meeting at Kraft Foods World Travel Retail, I was back in the Departures airside area before you know it. I’ve reviewed Zürich Airport a few times in recent months but each time I am more impressed. Specifically this time by…

Center Bar: This outlet and I have history…

Last time I was here I complained in my Blog about the lack of Swiss wine on the menu. SSP fixed that with impressive speed and this time round I indeed had a lovely glass of fresh Swiss white. What a great place to while away the time while waiting for a flight, looking out over the airport and into the distance beyond.

Gift Wrapping Station: An obvious component to a retail channel that relies so heavily on gift giving, right? Wrong? How come we see such a service so infrequently? It should be a mandatory element of travel retail not a surprise extra. Well done The Nuance Group.

Montreux Jazz Café: Another delightfully laid-back place to take a drink (no I promise, I didn’t drink any more Swiss wine, I do some work you know) or a light snack. The décor and ambience is suitably jazzy with some nice music playing on the big screen while I was there and apparently you can also buy Montreux Jazz gift items.

The Marché Restaurant: Wow. I’m not sure I have ever seen a more appealing food & beverage outlet in an airport. It features a ‘Natural Bakery’ that offers fresh, regional and seasonal food in what’s described (without overstatement) as a ‘cozy marketplace atmosphere’.

Pizza, salad, rosti, meats, fruit, sandwiches… you name it, it’s here but all presented in a beautifully ‘foodie’ ambience. The pictures tell the story. Absolutely first-class. This may just tear me away from the Center Bar on future visits.