Taking the independent route at JFK T4

RetailHall5 blog

The broad, open spaces of the Retail Hall at the new-look JFK Terminal 4

As the only independent operator of an airport terminal in the USA, JFKIAT is used to thinking differently. That’s underlined by the transformation of Terminal 4 at New York JFK – a project where phase one opened in May 2013 and that continues with a rolling series of store openings – which The Moodie Report is visiting this week.

It was a project accelerated by the arrival of Delta (previously an occupant of terminals 2 and 3), a move that overnight doubled passenger numbers at T4 from 8 million to around 16 million – but an upgrade that was badly needed in any case. The principal driver from a commercial viewpoint was to move most of the activity in the terminal from landside to airside – a move that is paying off handsomely in terms of dwell times, conversion and average spends. [More of this in a forthcoming major article on T4 and its concessionaires.]

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And it’s not just about the numbers: the experience here is a step up on what went before, but also on most North American terminals. The traveller arrives through security down into a central core of retail, split by a wide thoroughfare with the core categories on either side. DFS has stepped up here with a terrific execution. Not only does it feature the retailer’s location branding, but the images on the store fronts – iconic scenes from New York – add emphasis to the Sense of Place. Its beauty store (above) is a real highlight, notably in the fragrances department, which houses names you’ll struggle to find at any other airport, from Kilian to Diptyque to New York’s own Bond No. 9.

Swarovski_HugoBoss blog

Swarovski and Hugo Boss at T4

The traveller then encounters speciality retail – with brands such as Coach, Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, Swarovski, Hugo Boss, Tumi and others as you head towards either A or B gates, and that’s followed by food & beverage, which has some of the most outstanding concepts within the terminal, courtesy of SSP. The Palm is always a pleasure to visit, with its consistent quality of food and service, Le Grand Comptoir is a stunning piece of in-terminal architecture and we loved Uptown Brasserie, the kind of unit that encourages you to sit and watch the world go by, and even makes you forget you’re at an airport.

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Uptown Brasserie: one of many F&B highlights

But there’s more too: Camden Food Co has been a revelation, notes the SSP team (we have been meeting with all of the key concessionaires this week), as has Shake Shack, whose resonance with the US consumer you have to witness to understand – it’s a phenomenon. And to come are what should be a brilliant new street food concept, a Caviar House plus a new coffee concept, Flat Iron.

There’s plenty more besides: a fantastic new electronics concept from BluWire (Pacific Gateway Concessions); Hudson’s hugely successful news to books to gifts concept, first introduced in its current format here at T4; XpresSpa’s inviting spa booths – another staple of the US airport market that could make a big impact overseas too (it is only at Amsterdam Schiphol outside the US currently); and a terrific store from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (below).

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The latter is one of many examples of Sense of Place here – which comes otherwise principally through the F&B concepts and chef partnerships – and if there’s any terminal that should showcase New York to the world, T4 is it. Where the other JFK terminals are airline-operated, with a handful of carriers at each, T4 houses not only Delta – which is making this its New York hub – but many of the wold’s great airlines, serving routes to all regions, with a big emphasis on Asia and the Middle East, as well as Europe.

As CEO Gert-Jan de Graaff told me this week, JFKIAT’s goal is to make T4 the best airport terminal in the New York system. We think it’s already a reference point for the rest – and crucially one that delivers a memorable and varied experience for the visitor.

It’s not only the executions that make this project stand out though. Instead of taking the option to tender its prime spaces in a fast-growing terminal, JFKIAT chose to remain faithful to its long-term tenants here. That’s not simply because of those long-term relationships, it’s because each of its partners had a track record of delivering for many years through good times and (as with 9/11 and other occasions) bad times too. And they are challenged to deliver here once again, but with the aid of a collaborative, hands-on airport partner. It’s a model that avoids the costly auction system, and that makes a virtue of taking the long-term view. And based on the results – we’ll bring you full details soon – it’s a model that’s working.

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