Buying before flying: Airport shops travel first class with upscale illumination

Back when jet prop was the latest thing in airplane propulsion, the place where you could pick up some duty-free scotch or Chanel No. 5 at the air terminal before you boarded was lit by louverless fluorescent fixtures that gave the store all the sales appeal of a Depression-era loading dock. Those days are past, and in their place are elegant boutiques that are interchangeable with shops located on New York's Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Groupings of airport shops are beginning to look more like upscale shopping malls. A "shopping lane" was created at the Zurich airport for high-end specialty purveyors. In turn, shop interiors at airports around the world have taken on a slickness and visual appeal missing even a decade ago, and their designers have sometimes been enlisted to revamp the terminals themselves (see "Dark Age ends at Newark," page 76). Within smaller footprints necessitated by space availability at airport terminals, designers have used decorative lighting fixtures and bold treatments on ceilings, floors, and walls to attract passengers into the stores, and dramatically highlight product displays.

Airport retailing has become big business to the merchants and to the airport authorities. There are two types of shops: duty-free and duty-paid. Duty-free stores are the most lucrative. In 1997, the top performer was Miami International Airport, which racked up total sales of $156 million from its retail tenants. Of this amount, 27%, or $42 million, was revenue to the airport (RTA).

The search for cash has become an obsession for airports around the world. Two main sources of funding are feasible. Airport landing fees are one, but airlines are generally cash-strapped. Diversification--e.g., shops--remains the only real way.

Airports have understood the changes that now characterize them as service providers, turning them into customer-centered enterprises. The shift in focus from user to customer means constantly responding to passengers' expectations and continually adapting and renewing the services they offer to travelers.

"In shifting the focus from users to customers, and taking a customer-oriented approach, airports have discovered that customers are their main source of wealth," Jean Fleury, chairman and president of Aeroports de Paris (ADP), the Paris airport authority, recently told a conference of airport executives. ADP has been replacing duty-free shops with "travelers' shops" that are closer to the boarding lounges. The number of major brand outlets such as Hermes hasincreased. So has turnover per passenger: up 12% in 1998 over 1997.

Duty-free has been under attack in Europe. Detractors hold that duty-free takes sales away from merchants in traditional shopping venues. A high-level campaign to preserve the duty-free business has support from around the Continent. Duty-free shops at US airports are not affected.

The biggest-selling categories at airport shops have traditionally been fragrances, liquor, tobacco, cosmetics, and confectionery. In recent years, as shop selection becomes more diversified, jewelry and watches, electronic and electrical products, leather goods and accessories, and apparel and accessories have been added to this list of top sellers.

International Shoppes, the highest revenue producer at New York's JFK International Airport, is the only duty-free concessionaire in the new Terminal One. Annual traffic through the terminal, which opened last May, is estimated at approximately 1.4 million. The store is divided into three main product areas: Fragrance and Cosmetics; Luxury Goods and Leather; and a Gourmet Market for liquor and cigarettes.

Design for the 5,000-sq.-ft. (454 sq. m) store and its lighting was under the direction of Grid/2 International, a New York-based firm that specializes in retail facilities for transportation hubs. Grid/2 conducts its own research in shops that cater to travelers to determine the store layout that best suits the needs of the customer in that environment. Hidden video cameras record the movements of customers maneuvering through the sales floor. Typically, their patterns of movement are determined by the amount of time before their flight leaves, and how much luggage and other paraphernalia they carry.

Traveler-friendly innovations implemented by Grid/2 include:

* A flight monitor with departure information was installed in Terminal One stores. Customers shop longer if they are aware of how much time remains until they have to board.

* Bulky carry-on luggage can be checked at the entrance to the shops so shoppers can maneuver more easily through the aisles. Aisle width was extended to accommodate backpacks and strollers.

* Multilingual signs.

* Supermarket-style checkouts.

Grid/2's design theme is adapted from the Art Deco style of New York architecture of the 1920s and 1930s. Stylized geometric trims adapted from well-known landmarks such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building are used as a frieze below the stepped-down ceiling molding, above the wall displays.

One of the store's major design elements is a central elongated oval of 28 Lightolier pendant fixtures reminiscent of the Moderne look of the era. Each fixture sparkles with a T4 12V halogen 2-pin 50W lamp.

To pull shoppers' movement throughout the perimeter of the space, walls are illuminated with USI Columbia's Parawash linear wall wash fixture, used in 8"x12" and 8"x24" sizes. Ambient illumination is provided by the P4 Parabolume fixture from USI Columbia, 24"x24", fitted with three nine-cell biax lamps. The 3"-deep pre-anodized parabolic louver provides glare control.

Feature lighting is supplied by two fixtures from Lightolier. ProSpec recessed adjustables in the PAA6 series have a 6" aperture and a shallow frame. The self-flanged trim is painted white. Low-voltage compact accent Tron 16 Lytespots use 50W MR-16 12V lamps.

Brands are an important part of retailing at airports. For this International Shoppe, Grid/2 developed branded display islands in Cosmetics and Fragrance that offer self-service merchandise as well as assistance by a salesperson if required. In Luxury Goods and Leather, full-height wall fixtures showcase major brands. The Gourmet section has a built-in humidor, vertically separated bins for wine, and a refrigerator case for cheeses and other perishables.

Over at Philadelphia's International Airport, a 400-sq.-ft. (37 sq. m) space demonstrates that all that glitters is not gold. It's silver too, as shown at the Silver & Gold Connection in Concourse C, a US Air gateway. The six-month-old boutique is owned by Piercing Pagoda Inc., which operates 930 kiosks and retail stores in mall locations. A 600-sq.-ft. (56 sq. m) version opened in February in Concourse B at Dulles International Airport serving Washington, DC. Both airport locations are in newly designated retail areas, says Lisa Sankovsky, Piercing Pagoda's vice president for real estate.

Products ranging in price from $9 to $500 are displayed vertically against wineberry velveteen fabric. Designed by JGA Inc. of Southfield, MI, the store is organized to facilitate easy selection and purchase by travelers. Interior finishes are in warm neutral tones to focus attention on the necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and charms of 10kt and 14kt gold and silver. Flooring is vinyl wood strips laid vertically to add visual depth to the store. The laminate used for the casework and cashwrap blends with the central damask fabric panel. Supergraphic photo images above the product displays are clearly visible through the all-glass facade.

"Lighting is the most critical component--the most important design element--for jewelry sales," says Sankovsky. JGA was responsible for the lighting design, specifying Cooper-Halo fixtures and incandescent lamps throughout. Low-voltage MR-16 50W downlights are recessed in soffits and in the ceiling for ambient and accent lighting. Showcases are lit internally with MR-11 lamps.

Sankovsky is bullish on opportunities offered by airport environments as an expanding market for Silver & Gold Connection. So far, its stores have attracted both male and female customers, including airport personnel, members of flight crews, and business and leisure travelers. "Everything that customers can see they can purchase," she points out. A sales associate accompanies the customer to the showcase and unlocks it to show product. "We pay close attention to flight schedules, and increase the sales staff during busy periods," she says.

Store traffic is evaluated on the basis of enplanements. "We are open seven days a week all year, from 7am to 11pm," she points out. Piercing Pagoda has a training system in place that prepares sales associates to deal with the tight space and fast turnover required for a successful airport store--keeping pace with the speed of light, so to speak, in the ever-expanding world of air terminal retail.

Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer specializing in design and merchandising.

"There was so little light in the terminal, we could hardly get a nighttime reading in some of the public areas. It was scary eight years ago," said engineer Harry Spring, partner in WASA Architects and Engineers, of Terminal B at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Now the 35-year-old structure boasts a new computerized energy management system to help maintain the building at a lower cost, and efficient, upgraded lighting that makes it safer for travelers and complementary to the architecture.

Over the years, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Newark Airport, tried what was described as "Band-Aid fixes" to improve the building (which houses Delta Airlines) and the interior environment and reduce operating expenses. In 1991, $20 million was budgeted to mount a full-scale, multi-phase improvement program for the heavily used facility. Besides New York-based WASA Architects and Engineers, the consulting team included the architects and interior designers at Silvester Tafuro Design Inc. (STDI) in South Norwalk, CT, and lighting consultant N.H. Fedder Associates Inc. STDI is responsible for Hudson News stands at airports all over the country, including Newark.

Following the 1991 feasibility study, design concepts were completed in 1994. Interior and exterior construction, which began two years later, was completed earlier this year. The program encompassed all of Terminal B's four levels: Operations/Parking, Departure/Ticketing, Concourse/Retail, and Arrivals/Baggage. Energy consumption, of which lighting accounts for half, has been reduced by an estimated 35%. Key to the improved performance is the building's Smart Panel energy management system manufactured by Square D, and replacement of incandescent lamps with metal-halides.

Terminal B's interior (pictured) is dominated by the concrete hyperbolic parabolas that form the ceiling. This characteristic type of building design, where the visible concrete structure becomes the dominant architectural statement, was also utilized by architects such as Eero Saarinen for his Pan Am Terminal and the Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The glass curtain wall is hung from the building's concrete frame.

According to Jim Silvester, president of STDI, light levels were markedly increased in most areas at significantly lower operating costs for the Port Authority. Lighting designer Nicholas Fedder concurs. "Basically, we went through and replaced just about every incandescent lamp. The result is that the light level has approximately doubled at half the wattage."

The Departure and Concourse areas, which share a floor plan, had been lit with 1,000W incandescent downlights, rated at 2,000 hours. These were replaced with 400W metal-halide lamps carrying a 20,000-hour rating. In place of the 500W tungsten-halogen uplights, 400W metal-halide lamps were installed. These replacement lamps produce 80-85 lumens/W, versus 20 lumens/W for the original incandescent lamps. A series of 400W metal-halide bracketed downlights were added, including those under the clerestory windows. In the Arrivals area, the 250W PAR recessed incandescent downlights were replaced with 2'x2' fluorescent lights on a 10'x10" grid.

Fixture suppliers include Sterner for metal-halide uplights, Lightolier for the fluorescents, and Kim for the pole uplights. STDI worked with Public Service Electric & Gas, the local utility which provided fixtures and installation services. Fluorescent wall washers from Neo-Ray now are part of the illumination in the Baggage Claim area. Over the ticket counters, new T8 fluorescent bulbs bring the lighting level up to 100fc.

Spring says that the building's new energy management system was programmed to take advantage of daylighting from windows on both long sides of the terminal. Daylight readings indicated the position near the center of space where the falloff became apparent. The 25-30fc level is achieved during the day with a combination of natural light augmented as needed by artificial illumination, and bolstered at night when additional lights are automatically switched on. Thanks to a team effort, Terminal B is no longer a terminal case where illumination is concerned.