It is freezing as I step out of the car, it’s 4.30am on a cold December morning, the tarmac glistens with early morning frost, the sky dark with the orange tinge of local street lights. The transfer bus has arrived and I am not alone, although at this time of the morning you think I would be, about 30 other people pop out of cars to embark on their working day at the airport.  The bright lights of the bus hurt the eyes a little as you board, the warmth of the bus is a welcome feeling.
By the time you reach the Terminal, you are firing on all pistons, it is time to start the early shift at the airport. You walk by a few slumbering passengers on the floor who have had to endure a night in the Terminal building or some already queuing for check in, trolleys laden with luggage.

Stores opened, lights on, tills at the ready, team members start to arrive to work with their chirpy greetings and chat, it is not even 5am yet. The rest of the passengers start to drift through security, the smell of coffee from the nearest coffee shop stirs the senses, I think to myself “I’ll save that for later”. Within an hour the store is busy, queues at tills, baskets filling up, boarding cards ready, briefings given to team members, yesterday’s sales reports reviewed, we are off and prepared for just about anything.
Airport life is like a city in itself, its own microcosm, anything can happen, it might or it might not. However, it fulfilled one of my favourite pastimes, people watching. Fascinating.

The travelling passenger always has needs, they vary from one person to another, from finding a member of staff to talk to a passenger in their language to guiding passengers to their gate. Retailing in the airport goes beyond that of just offering and selling products, you are often a support service for the passengers, a safety blanket for responding to their questions, giving them assurance that the information on the ight board is accurate. I remember flight delays especially late into the night, when passengers needed information, they were tired, exhausted and just wanted to get going after hours waiting in the departure lounge. Water coolers were moved from the staff areas to the front of the store for passengers to help themselves as all the other stores and cafes had closed for the night. That’s service. I worked in the airport for 10 years and heard the phrase, “its not like the good old days” on many an occasion, it may not be pre-abolition anymore but with the changes in the nature of retailing in the airport we must change with the times, nothing is ever like it used to be, we operate in a very different world, with ever changing technological advances.

The things I found to be amazing in the airport was witnessing the volume and demand of product move from warehouse to store, storeroom to shop floor, shop floor to sales, I have never seen so much vodka sold in 1 day! I recall Godiva chocolates at £25 per box being cleared from 3 shelves in less than an hour, quite remarkable but that all added to the excitement of travel retail, it was busy all the time. It was all about how could we get this replenished as quickly as possible.

Then, there are the game changing situations that cannot be avoided, the atrocities on 9/11 made a signi cant impact upon the air industry, foot and mouth disease, SARS, the ban on Liquids and Gels, all these incidents have to be accommodated for in the Travel retail industry making it very resilient and responsive. In TR you need to be the change agent, any resistance to it can’t last, it’s a constant world.

So, now its time for a quick coffee, its mid morning and time to recharge for the rest of the day. When you work in the airport you get to know the regular barista in the coffee shop, or a few of the Security guards, you see them daily. I was once asked by a passenger if all Police officers carried guns at Heathrow, some what surprised by the question, I just replied that yes that was normal practice. I thought to myself you become immune to what you are so used to every day that may not be so common for the passenger. However, the day I encountered a man laying face down outside a Terminal at Heathrow, surrounded by 10 armed officers will always remain with me as something that maybe you don’t see daily!

I am fortunate enough to have worked with a number of teams in my career and the people I met at the airport will always remain with me, I am still in touch with a number of them now and some other colleagues will be life long friends. When you are in the airport, it sounds like a cliché but you are part of a unique family, we all know we have to get up early, it can be long hours, it can be very challenging, we encounter difficulties on a daily basis, but its like an unsaid code, we all get on with it. It is the people that bring the store to life, that make the passengers day, speak in their native tongue to help, go over and above. It does not work if someone doesn’t do their part, we all join in.

A day in the airport can encompass anything, spending time on the shop floor, checking promotions, appraisals with team members, meeting suppliers, planning events, when you have finished your shift, you know you can comfortably walk away knowing, that products you have sold are making their way across the world and you made a difference to at least one person that day.

As ever, thank you for reading & sharing.