Tornado time in travel retail

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

T5 WDF 2

I’m not travelling today.

Sorry, yes I am. April Fool’s. Got you didn’t I?

Of course I’m travelling. The day’s got a Y in it hasn’t it? This year has flown by like a tornado ripping across the deep south of the USA. And in travel retail terms more seems to have happened in the first three months than one could reasonably expect in a year. I think I have spent more time on planes than off them and I constantly have to check myself during meetings to see I have not taken my belt and shoes off, so conditioned am I to going through airport security.

I’m at London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, my second home and still, I think, one of the world’s best airports.

It was with some nostalgia that I looked up at the World Duty Free fascia over the open store frontage. I half expected it to say ‘Dufry’. Now that would have been an April Fool’s. But only just.

T5 WDF

We, and the industry at large, are still taking in the almost breathtaking ambition of Dufry’s rapid-fire acquisitions of The Nuance Group and World Duty Free Group. What was that about tornados? Both deals in themselves were momentous. The double whammy simply redefines the sector.

I kind of hope that April might be a little quieter. In this age of real-time media, covering such events can be (and is) exhausting. I’m about to sleep throughout the long-haul journey that lies ahead. No meal, no movies, no Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (ok, maybe two out of three).

First though, some observations on T5’s retail. It’s of course slick and diverse. And it will be interesting to see that in due course whether Dufry ownership changes World Duty Free’s approach here. There’s a widely held industry perception that Nuance was a better retailer (I’m talking merchandising, promotions and so on; certainly not though in the critical area of profitability) than Dufry. The same would go for World Duty Free over Dufry though I don’t believe these stores look as good as they did in former CEO Mark Riches’ heyday (he was a stickler for good sight lines and consistent gondola heights, for example; sometimes today you feel you are walking through an impenetrable maze).

I’m not so sure about the much-touted Louis Vuitton store either, not a patch on the original airport boutique at Incheon International, especially in terms of actual physical location (the pictures below tell their own story) but also window display and internal fit-out.

T5 vuitton external

t5 vuitton by seats

T5 vuitton bins

T5 Vuitton internal

My long-time favourite T5 boutique, Paul Smith (below), has had a radical makeover. The new look is cool and chic of course but it loses much of the quirkiness and sense of shopper discovery that its predecessor had.

t5 paul smith 2

I’m also not convinced by the Fortnum & Mason seafood bar. The colours make me sleepy not excited. Give me the vitality of Caviar House & Prunier any time. And why, as with the latter, no charging points? In a business travel-dominated terminal, that’s unforgivable.

T5 Fort

t5 Rolex

Just opposite Louis Vuitton, I liked this image (above) of a businessman chatting on his phone while he eyed up the latest Rolex model. When I came into this business what feels like a century ago, neither Rolex nor Vuitton bothered to hide their contempt for airport retail. How very, very much has changed in our industry. Look at the glittering roll-call of Singaporean and Qatari sovereign wealth funds that Dufry has lined up to help fund its World Duty Free takeover. That says everything about how the travel retail sector is now viewed by the investment community.

It’s almost time to fly. I feel a Rip Van Winkle-length sleep coming on. Wake me up at the end of the flight will you? I’ll probably be dreaming that Dufry has just bought Lagardere Services and Gebr Heinemann.

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