A day in the life of... Airport retail
Brian Woodhead, BAA retail concessions director for Heathrow airport, talks to Jenny Southan
5.15am I get up and catch a train to my office, which is five minutes from Heathrow airport on Perimeter Road, and overlooks the runway. It’s noisy outside but inside it’s soundproofed. It used to be wonderful when you could watch Concorde take off.
7am Unless I need to head straight to one of the terminals, I am usually at my desk by now. It’s admin for the first hour, catching up with people and getting on top of emails and current news. It’s difficult to describe a typical day. It’s a mixture of getting out into the terminals, attending internal meetings and seeing our retail partners – I am usually in London one day a week visiting their offices and fashion houses, or having lunch.
I have been with BAA for 11 years, but I have been in this role for just over one. The diversity of the job is really good. Things happen that you never expect, such as the installation of body scanners, which means we have to rethink the way passengers move around the airport. Security measures such as the scanners may also detract from the exposure the retail outlets are getting and have a negative influence on the traveller’s mood, which means they are less likely to go shopping. So we need to find solutions to this sort of thing.
I have a team of about 50 people, and a significant part of my job is managing them. What I get a buzz out of is seeing my team work well without me getting involved.
9am I walk the terminals about once or twice a week. I have to analyse the retail experience around me and ask myself what passengers need, what they are looking for and whether we deliver. Some people only want to buy the essentials, such as a newspaper, bottle of water or sandwich – for many, WH Smith or Boots is the only port of call. Others consider shopping a treat so want to browse in designer stores such as Prada and Gucci, or get a bite to eat at Caviar House and Prunier. We try to understand the passenger, the retail space and what brands will satisfy, and then talk to our business partners to see how we can meet those demands.
The retail offering is different at the airport from what you get in the high street, and is worth more per square metre. World Duty Free is our most successful partner. At Heathrow’s four terminals – not counting T2, which is under construction until 2013 – we have more than 54,000 sqm of retail space, including 26 World Duty Free stores, 72 food and beverage outlets, 60 bureaux de change and 180 specialist shops for fashion and technology.
We are always trying to balance the commercial view with passenger needs and airport operations – the practicalities of terminal design and layout. How people navigate their way around the terminals is important, so signs play a big part. We have recently decided to change the pharmacy sign from a black cross to a green cross, which is more widely understood.
We also have to think about the placement of escalators and lifts, and how we can encourage people to go into shops – for example, by creating attractive window displays or diverting passenger flow through them with signs or promotional merchandise. But frequent flyers know their routings so we can’t change the flow of everyone.
I have pretty stretching financial targets so we need to work on ways to improve retail performance. Walking around T5, I might see that Pret needs more seating so we would look at ways to accommodate this.
2pm After lunch, I often have meetings with the marketing and finance teams or T2’s designers. I look at the drawings for the new terminal about once a month to work out any potential passenger flow problems – there may be congestion points or dead space. We also need to decide on the best places for restaurants and bars, as 40-50 per cent of people eat at the airport. But we don’t want that to detract from the shopping.
6.30pm I don’t work office hours – sometimes I leave at 8pm, and on Tuesdays I leave at 4pm to play football – that is sacrosanct. But normally I leave about now. It’s not a stressful job, just busy. Having my PA is very important as she manages my diary and I find it’s important to delegate – there are so many balls to juggle.
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