Paul Smith socks it to me before Sunrise in Shanghai

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

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This Blog begins at the Emirates Lounge at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3, waiting to fly to Shanghai, via Dubai. I suspect it may not end here…

I’m heading to Shanghai for the 15th anniversary of Sunrise Duty Free, where I’m privileged to be the sole international travel retail media representative. I’ve tracked Sunrise closely since its inception; watched its impressive development; and grown to know, like and deeply respect its senior figures, Madame Zhang Feng Yi and Fred Kiang, so I’m excited and honoured to be invited.

At what promises to be a glittering occasion, Sunrise will also unveil a major new e-commerce retail initiative – more of that following Monday’s celebrations.

From Shanghai it’s straight on to Taipei and The Trinity Forum 2014, The Moodie Report’s biggest moment of the year. I founded The Trinity Forum in 2003 and am very proud of its development since. It has its perennial critics who somehow think it should solve all the industry’s ills and blame it when it doesn’t but no-one can dispute the event’s influence in raising the issues that matter and its importance as a showcase for championing excellence.

A quick word about the Heathrow airport experience to date. Check-in and security were easy, the former especially so since my (and the world’s best) travel agent Phil Burdekin of Flight Centre got me upgraded to First Class on Emirates (a quick disclaimer: for the first eight years of The Moodie Report’s existence I travelled economy wherever I went, no matter how long the flight, a necessary economy in the literal sense to build a new business. Since my illness in 2010 I’ve allowed myself the luxury of business class on long haul and given my ever-deepening carbon footprint that’s probably a good thing).

Once through security (quick, polite, efficient) I took a wander through the T3 World Duty Free store (the liquor area I am afraid is cluttered: the gondolas way too high, the sightlines miserable; The Wine Collection area has some lovely wines but the merchandising could be a lot more exciting; beauty on the other hand is generally excellent, at least in cosmetics), before visiting a few of my favourite specialist outlets, Jo Malone, Thomas Pink, Caviar House & Prunier and Paul Smith.

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[It will cost you £1,000 but look what you get: This special presentation of Penfolds 2010 Bin 170 Kalimna Shiraz, celebrating 170 years of winemaking, is clad in an exquisite Linley box. With a 98-point Robert Parker rating, the wine’s not bad either.]

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I admit to being hooked by Paul Smith – both its wares and its stores. Its Heathrow T5 shop is in my global top ten (more of that in a forthcoming Blog) and the T3 variant is pretty damn good too.

As is my want, I bought a couple of pairs of Paul Smith socks (I adore them and on my more eccentric days like to wear non-matching ones). Alas, something about my transaction (what is it about me and technology?) caused the system to freeze just as I had popped the socks into my ‘Mobile Moodie’ Tumi wheelie and was about to exit the shop.

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[Mix & match Paul Smith style]

“Sorry about this,” said the sales assistant Zubair. For the next ten minutes or so (with me necessarily checking my watch the whole time, for in what won’t rank as a surprise to regular readers, I was running just a tad late), he and his senior colleague Mo did their best to kick-start a system that seemed to have thrown the mother of all tantrums. In contrast, Zubair and Mo stayed calm, friendly, assuring. They could have lost the customer but their collective warmth (and my love for Paul Smith socks) ensured they didn’t. Nice job guys. And what a store.

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[Powerful airport advertising at Heathrow Terminal 3]

After a few shop and restaurant checks, that didn’t leave much time in the Emirates Lounge. A quick glass of ice-cold Veuve Clicquot for the road (ok and half a glass of Chassagne Montrachet just to ensure the road was there) and it was time to hit the aviation highway Emirates-style on the big bird itself, the A-380.

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I’d love to tell you about the inflight experience; about the wonderful duty free offer; about the professionalism and grace of the crew. And I would if I hadn’t fallen asleep moments after take-off and slept all the way into Dubai. I’m flying back with Emirates (admittedly not First Class) so my review will have to wait till then.

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Now I’m writing from the Emirates Lounge at Dubai International Terminal 3. It’s a vast, sublimely peaceful facility that immediately put some zest back into this tired old frame.

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[The power of airport advertising captured brilliantly at Dubai International]

First though I had a couple of tasks to do. Number one was to seek a refund for a couple of (rather expensive) gift items bought last November that weren’t to the recipient’s taste.

No problem at all for the wonderful Customer Service team at Dubai Duty Free. Young Rebecca from the Philippines (pictured below) took me to the gold department where I bought the items, chatting engagingly along the way about how much she enjoyed working for Dubai Duty Free.

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She hails from a town one hour outside Manila, travelling back home for four weeks every year. Like most of the Dubai Duty Free team she has left her family behind only to find a new one here and the genuine way Rebecca and others always talk about “Mr Colm” [McLoughlin] and “Mr George” [Horan] never fails to affect me. Every single member of the Dubai Duty Free team has an interesting life story to tell and I always try to seek it out.

Once there at the Gold shop, supervisor Austin and his team made what might have been an irksome process swift and painless. With my credit card nicely topped up, I chatted to long-time Duty Manager Rajesh Advani (below) about life at Dubai Duty Free.

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When I told him how helpful Rebecca had been, he emphasised just how much effort Dubai Duty Free puts into staff training and customer service. As each shift ends a daily debrief is held. “What did we do wrong or not as well as we might have,” is a question that is always asked. Consistency is everything, said Rajesh, who hails from Mumbai but who has worked for Dubai Duty Free for 21 years. Even the slightest lapse in standards is treated like a matter of state, underlining one of the key reasons in Dubai Duty Free’s rise to become the biggest single airport retailer on the planet.

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I also stopped in at one of the two Le Clos outlets housed within the outstanding Emirates First & Business Lounge (above). These are showcases for the bigger, brilliant wine & spirits boutiques housed in the main airport concourses but they’re still outstanding. What an outstanding line-up of great (and I use the word deliberately) wines, from the First Growths of Bordeaux to the New World magnificence of Penfolds Grange Hermitage and the ever-refreshing zest of Cloudy Bay from Richie McCaw-land, sorry New Zealand. I chatted for a few minutes to Suredj (pictured), the young man in charge of the shop, and he spoke of a steady sales flow each day of ultra-premium wines to First and Business Class passengers who were only interested in such labels and who did not want to visit the duty free shop.

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But how many retailers around the world would be prepared to make such an investment? In space, in staff and most of all in stock. The day before my flight I had lunch in London with Andrew Day, CEO of MMI/Emirates Leisure Retail, the Dubai government owned retail-to-food & beverage operator which runs Le Clos. Andrew and I bemoaned the many temptations to ‘dumb down’ the airport consumer offer because of the many disincentives to invest in the channel. The magnificence of Le Clos (is there a better fine wine offer in travel retail?) shows the power of belief backed up by investment,. How many travel retailers bemoan the challenge of their target passengers heading straight for the lounge but don’t (or can’t for financial reasons) do anything about it?

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Dubai Duty Free was, as always, bursting with activity, a retail extravaganza that shoppers never seem to tire of. Its beauty offer (below) has improved dramatically in recent years and the results simply speak for themselves.

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[A lovely generic promotion at Dubai Duty Free Terminal 3]

H DUBAI LAUDER[Another example of Lauder using the airport advertising platform cleverly, this time underneath one of the main FID screens] 

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As I write now, I’m onboard Emirates 304 two hours out of Shanghai, 35,000 feet above the vast hinterland of China, listening to the eternal greatness that is Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan (the First Growth of singer songwriters).  The ICE (information, communication, entertainment) system on Emirates is just the bee’s knees as we used to say in New Zealand, although I seriously doubt that bees have knees (Dylan’s song Visions of Johanna on Blonde on Blonde may offer a clue) and if they do they must be terribly small.

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[Browsing for duty free made easy onboard Emirates]

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But I digress. The Emirates experience really is the total package. I always think companies (mine included) are only as good as their weakest link. That, depending on the organisation, can be a rude receptionist, an uncaring waiter or stewardess, a tyrannical CEO or a sloppy reporter. But from the moment I was picked up outside my home by the Emirates driver and taken to Heathrow I have been treated royally. I am just one of millions of passengers the airline handles each year, yet each and every member of staff (from check-in to lounge to flight crew) has treated me as if I am their only guest.  I can only hope that Emirates one day takes over American Airlines (the subject of one of my most popular Blogs).

As I fly over Chongqing, it’s time to stop Blogging and to start doing some of the vast amount of preparatory work for Trinity that still awaits. I’ve received most of the speakers’ presentations. I have, of course, not started mine. The cold steel of the guillotine blade is not yet close enough but I am starting to sense its deadly chill.

First though, I have other business. It’s approaching 11pm in China but tomorrow it will be, literally, a case of Sunrise in Shanghai.

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