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The airside challenge: what brands and retailers need to know about operating beyond customs and security

By Blackjack Promotions  //  Tue 17th October 2017
The space beyond airport customs and security checks is a foreign land for many brands and retailers, says Fiona Tindall, Head of Domestic Retail, Blackjack Promotions

For the world’s airports, retail revenues are becoming increasingly more important – according to the latest figures from research company GlobalData, the total spent by consumers in airport retailers reached $38 billion in 2016, with this figure predicted to grow by 27% to $49 billion by 2021.

Obviously, retail represents a significant revenue stream for the companies that run the world’s airports, for the retailers that rent shop-floor space from them – and for the brands that are sold in these shops.

But for brands that are new to the airport environment (and even for some that have been selling there for years) there are challenges, not the least of which is how best to manage how your products are displayed in areas such as Duty Free.

On the High Street, shopping malls and supermarkets, brands can easily deploy field marketing representatives to carry out merchandising activities – checking stock levels in store, keeping product displays tidy, making sure new products are actually on the shelf, not in the stock room, and managing the category so their brand has a fair share of the shelf-scape.
In airports, particularly in Duty Free, things are far more complicated. 
To begin with, there’s the language. All industries develop their own jargon, and the airport business is no different. 

We don’t have time or space here for a dictionary of ‘airport speak’, but there are two terms that brand managers and marketing directors have to understand if they are ever going to succeed in promoting their products successfully in airport terminals.

They are ‘landside’ and ‘airside’ – and they represent a fundamental divide between two different worlds. 

Landside is everything this side of the security gates and (in international airports) passport control. Airside is everything the other side of security and immigration control.

As you can imagine, there are major security concerns over allowing people and products to cross over to work airside. To work airside, staff must go through incredibly strict vetting procedures, set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), in order to get an airside pass.

Individuals can’t apply for a pass: only companies which qualify for ‘signatory status’ at a particular airport can do so, on behalf of employees. It’s not an easy process – anyone put forward for an airside pass has to be able to provide a day-by-day account of who they’ve worked for and where they’ve been for the five years prior to applying.

Passes are also specific to particular areas of the airport, and staff have to have valid and very specific reasons to be there. You even have to list the tools and equipment they need to do their jobs, and what those jobs are.

As you can imagine, there are dozens (for smaller airports) up to hundreds or even thousands (for an airport like Heathrow) of people who need airside access every day, to work in baggage handling, security, cleaning, maintenance, transport, catering, retail outlets, or to staff brand experiential activations in lounges and other open spaces.

While it is possible to apply for temporary airside passes, these are expensive and hard to get, plus staff have to be accompanied by somebody else who has a permanent pass while they are airside. What’s more, there’s a limit of how many passes any one individual can get in a set time period. 

It’s a very necessary security precaution, of course, as the whole system is there to ensure a safe environment for all airport workers, airline employees and passengers alike. 

But for smaller companies, the whole process of getting people the right credentials to be allowed to work airside can be an expensive paperwork nightmare. 

Often, particularly when it involves classic merchandising activities, someone may only need to be airside for an hour or two – yet they still have to go through the same procedures as if they were going to be there for days.

Smaller companies who sell products through airside retail outlets can find themselves spending a small fortune on airside passes for merchandisers, not to mention travel costs from wherever staff are based – all for someone to spend a couple of hours tidying up displays and checking stock. 

Even the bigger companies find it takes a sizeable chunk out of their budgets and their staff time.

One solution is to use a third-party staff provider which is accredited to the relevant airport. There are a number of these which can provide merchandisers by the hour or the day. 

Brand owners and retailers just have to say what needs to be done, and the staffing agency will get one of their team to work through the brand’s task list and then report back, complete with digital images where relevant (for example, to show tidy and full displays) emailed to the client plus documentation and even product orders.

It’s a simple solution that saves brands and retailers time and money (because they only pay by the hour, rather than for whole days of their own employees’ time) and also means airports aren’t being snowed under with requests for temporary passes. One operative can handle half a dozen clients across a range of airside retail outlets in a day…

It’s not just shelf stocking or order taking, however: many clients will need classic ‘mystery shopper’ audits of their airport retail outlets, both landside and airside, while others may want to run marketing surveys.

To be honest, the tasks companies need carried out airside are classic field marketing jobs of the kind that most FMCG companies will be familiar with. The added complication is, it’s beyond border control and security. There are people who make the trip every day to work airside, however – marketers just have to find staffing suppliers they can rely on and who have the relevant signatory status.

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