From Gateway to gateway, Hong Kong to Heathrow

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

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“No need to laugh and cry

It’s a wonderful, wonderful life.” – Black

Blog posted 5 days late after falling into a deep, deep sleep…

Strong coffee is keeping me awake as I start this Blog in The Moodie Report’s interim Hong Kong bureau on the 10th floor of the impressive Gateway Hotel on Canton Road and prepare to fly back to London after a whistle-stop 30-hour sojourn in this ever-thrilling city.

I’ve been here to witness the launch of the T Galleria by DFS concept, in the place where it all started for the retailer over half a century ago for two American entrepreneurs named Charles Feeney and Robert Miller, backing little more than an (Cornell) educated hunch.

But it’s been worth every ounce of jet lag (yes that familiar ‘Lost in Translation’ feeling of disorientation that many of you will be familiar with, waking at 4 in the morning, unable to sleep and with no Scarlett Johansson in sight) for the sheer privilege and pleasure of being here.

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When Philippe Schaus (above) took over as DFS CEO (and later Chairman) in 2012, he and new Consumer Marketing and Branding President Sibylle Scherer, promised a concerted emphasis on consumer marketing and communication. It sounded good but what did it mean? Over the ensuing months that pledge started to take shape and credence, notably in the creation of the T Galleria by DFS Concept, and last night (Monday) it found full voice.

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To promote the T Galleria concept in Hong Kong (and the letter T’s link to traveller), DFS unveiled a new platform for tourism dubbed ‘T in Art’, which pays homage to Hong Kong’s people and culture. The public arts works are hosted within the city’s iconic tourist destination Avenue of the Stars and comprises a series of giant T sculptures placed along the boardwalk.

Each has been created by a well-known Hong Kong artist or entrepreneur, including film director Patrick Kong; actor and director Daniel Wu (who unveiled his own vibrant work at Monday’s press conference) and renowned cellist Lei Zhang (whose gorgeously evocativeTraversing Cultures’, pictured below, is my favourite of the range).

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At a sumptuous dinner at the renowned Hong Kong contemporary art space Galerie Perrotin, DFS delivered a sneak preview (in miniature) of all the works. This included an interactive 3D art installation (below) that brought to life the tone and energy of DFS’s stunning Fall/Winter 2013 campaign.

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Benjamin Vuchot, DFS Region President for Asia North (above), made a telling point to me when I commented on the fineness of the various works. “It’s not just about the transactional,” he smiled, in just six words encapsulating perfectly how the project lifts retail above the commercial and into the cultural. It’s a fine yet complex divide, one which DFS has managed to straddle with finesse and flair.

Individually and collectively these works spell triumph – of course with a capital T.

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[Actor and director Daniel Wu gets his favourite memories of travel down to a T]

Later… I continue this Blog at 35,099 feet above Nanchang, China. I’m travelling back in rather more comfort than my outbound leg and the unusually empty Cathay Pacific business class cabin is enabling me to occupy two seats and hop across the aisle while writing from one and to wild mushroom agnolotti (my main course not an Italian courtesan) from the other and vice versa.

I have been getting a few strange looks from the crew but after chatting about what I do (and what they sell) I think they are beginning to understand. They may be a little worried though that in my ‘right corner’ I am supping a delightfully cherry and blackcurrant Murray Street White Label Barossa Shiraz from Australia, while in the left corner by my laptop, a crisp as a late Autumn frost Spy Valley (despite the name it’s from New Zealand not the USA) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc vies for attention. I suppose I am what you would call an ambidextrous wine drinker.

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The Shiraz is perfect with the pan-fried loin of lamb, which I chose after rejecting the fish, not for logical reasons but just for the Halibut (sorry, an old pun but I will spare you the other 74 fish-related ones as I know my plaice). As I have said many times down the past 11 years, it’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it.

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Back to business. I am very impressed with the cohesiveness of the Cathay/Inflight Sales Group onboard sales effort. The inflight entertainment screen features a ‘Shop’ icon, which takes you into a brilliantly clear buying guide, replete with duty free allowances, promotions and LAG requirements. Accessible, stylish and nicely signposted – ‘Tempting Pleasure’, for example, offers Rémy Martin or Louis Royer Cognacs, Godiva chocolates, Royal Salute and so on; while ‘Travel Smart’ features items from Soxks (a lovely sock range, including a marvellously bad pun, and sku, that even I wouldn’t descend to – Liquorice Allsoxks), Lesportsac, Skross, Folli Follie and many others.

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Right from the start of the flight the crew have been promoting with enthusiasm a -15% offer on purchases of HK$2,000 or more, while inflight sales magazine ‘Discover the Shop’ is a crowded but classy 212-page monster, diverse in its offering, and packed with exclusives and, to quote that horrible industry word, ‘newness’. The crew have been nothing short of superb, smiling with the naturalness of a joyous infant, rather than with the forced endeavour of many of their counterparts on some of the European and American airlines I often fly.

In that context of excellence, I must say that I find the sweeping rejection of inflight retail by houses such as Chanel (and others) disappointing and short-sighted in the extreme. Compare operations of the class of, say, Cathay, Korean Air and Emirates and yet see the same now withdrawn Chanel skus stacked on a cheap fixture (see below) in the only average Arrivals stores (my apologies to the generally excellent World Duty Free but they are) at London Heathrow Airport and you must wonder about such a policy.

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I would wage big money that some senior executives backtrack on such policies in years to come, a point at which I would love to see leading airline buyers respond with “Sorry, we’re selective about which brands (and partners) we carry.” If, as the old saying goes, a dog is not for Christmas, then nor is inflight retail for a promiscuous partnership relationship.

Selective distribution should mean exactly that, as opposed to mass judgement of and withdrawal from a whole channel. If you think some airlines are sub-standard, withdraw from them not a whole channel. Incidentally, we get the same nonsense from (inevitably) the same houses about their policy (or non-policy) for ‘trade press’ advertising, while their executives (almost always good people, by the way, who are forced to make excuses for a centralised mantra) queue up by the dozen to subscribe to our free newsletters and e-Zines.

We’re no longer prepared to tolerate that double standard and our long-term ‘Fast, Factual, Free’ distribution philosophy is being adapted via a subscription price for those houses which insist on riding for free while applying all sorts of restrictions on who works with them. We checked out one beauty house the other day which (like its fellow group brands) declines to invest in any advertising whatsoever, but which has no fewer than 80 subscribers to our free digital publications. Don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of it all…

But hey, the glass is overflowing, not half empty, and such are the attitudes that we all have to tolerate. I’ve just been chatting back in the economy cabin with a friend who I bumped into on the plane and we’ve talking about the transitory nature of life and how we should seize every day and embrace the people we enjoy and who we love.

I remain thankful and blessed by the opportunities to meet so many outstanding and creative people around the planet, from the lovely, humble Cathay cabin crew around me (the best I ever experienced – including the kind and compassionate Zalida from the Philippines; the warm and humble Dani from Bali; the always attentive and smiling Jada from Hong Kong and the brilliant Chief Cabin Purser from India, Sahjeet) to the senior management of DFS earlier in the week, whom to a man and woman displayed an innate, infectious, understanding, enthusiasm and passion for nurturing principles, people and products.

As we fly over Nizhniy Novgorod, some four hours out of London, it’s time for some sleep. As the man Black sang way back in 1987 when I began my career in travel retail, it is indeed a wonderful, wonderful life.

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