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To better understand the big marketing challenges facing travel brands in an age when consumers are in control, Skift’s What Keeps CMOs Up at Night will talk with the leading voices in global marketing from across all the industry’s sectors.
These interviews with leaders of hotels, airlines, tourism boards, digital players, agents, tour operators and more will explore both shared and unique challenges they are facing, where they get insights, and how they best leverage digital insights to make smarter decisions.
This is the latest interview in the series.
If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve probably noticed airport stores selling more electronic accessories while toning down the traditional emphasis on pushing books, magazines, and newspapers.
It’s no mistake that airport retailers are adapting to the traveling public’s newfound reliance on digital devices.
Hudson Group, which operates more than 700 airport locations across North America, recently rebranded its outposts from the classic Hudson News brand to the simpler Hudson moniker in order to more closely align its brand with the wider array of products it now sells.
Hope Remoundos, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Hudson Group, told Skift that the variety of locations operated under the same brand gives her an opportunity to experiment with new promotions and products. Hudson Group is owned by international travel retailer Dufry.
Skift spoke to Remoundos about appealing to the changing appetites of travelers, the challenges of innovating in travel retail, and why selling hoverboards and drones to flyers wasn’t a bad idea.
Skift: What marketing challenges keep you up at night?
Remoundos: Space is a challenge in our environment. What we try to do is allocate space based on sales, which is telling you what your customer is looking for. It’s always a challenge to find space when you want to introduce new product into a store. You kind of are looking at the sales, saying to yourself, ‘Well, there isn’t really that much in here that’s not doing really well; how do I justify bringing in a new product line and taking out something that is tried and true?’ But the reality of marketing is if you don’t try it, you’re not going to know how great the success could be.
Skift: Speaking of trying something new, your team rebranded the ubiquitous Hudson News brand to just Hudson. What was the thought process behind the change, and how has it worked out so far?
Remoundos: We changed from Hudson News to Hudson to become more travel convenient, to integrate different areas in the store to make the store appear fresher, newer, more contemporary, while still carrying the great selection of products but also innovating with new products. For example, we expanded our electronics line.
A few years back, when smartphones and iPads and all of the technology devices became popular, the one thing that we all noticed was the panic on the travelers face when their smart device had no juice, and there were only two or three plugs in the airport for somebody to plug into. Immediately, we added to our selection a line of chargers and [battery packs] so that all you had to do was plug in the power and you were ready to go. You didn’t need to worry about plugging it into a socket anywhere.
We evolved to really read what the consumer was looking for, to create a fresh look. Each of the sections has a different color delineating the type of product that we sell in that section. Media is blue; destination is a pinky-purple color. Essentials are yellow and green; that’s our market-basket group.
Skift: How do you look at the types of travelers passing through the airport? Obviously, catering to business travelers is most lucrative.
Remoundos: A great many of our customers are business travelers, so they are our frequent customers. A lot of them are in our stores more than five times a year. We talk to them; we’ve done a few market surveys to listen to what they’re looking for, the changes that they expect from us, implementation of new products.
The group of travelers that’s there for leisure, family travelers… they want to go and relax and have a different kind of a vacation. So we’re really trying to meet the needs of the various different types of travelers.
We’re really just reaching out to our customer, listening to them, and listening to our own people because our own people travel so much. We kind of know what we’re looking for, as well, as a traveling consumer. In Chicago, for example, and this is a seasonal product, we actually sell snow shovels. Not big ones, but the kind that you can shovel out your car with. The reason is that so often in the wintertime, you’ll be in a snowstorm. You were not able to get a covered parking spot. Now, you’ve got to go and shovel out your car that the parking garage has actually plowed in because they’ve tried to clean out the parking lot, right?
Skift: You’ve basically got your customers captive in the airport terminals, but how do you approach marketing outside the airport like on social media?
Remoundos: (laughs) We do kind of trap the customer, but, you know what, about a year and a half ago, [we became very active on social media]. Our CEO and president, Joe DiDomizio, was getting tweets and Facebook postings from people. We realized that people were reaching out to us through social media and that we needed to be able to respond and to react to them very quickly.
We’ve had some really good ideas come out of the [Facebook] idea bank from people that are sales associates, right now, to people that are executives in the company. So anybody can participate, and great ideas come from absolutely every state that we operate in and every level of employee that we have.
Skift: What are some examples of marketing attempts or product pushes that didn’t work out the way you expected?
Remoundos: Well, last Christmas, we decided that we were going to add hoverboards to our section. We saw how the consumer was reacting to it, in terms of mainline retail. Unfortunately, the battery inside the hoverboard and the size of the hoverboard became problematic with the airlines. From a safety point of view, the batteries were sort of self-exploding, so we immediately had to pull them.
But there’s an example of an item that we really sold a lot of in the couple of days that we actually had it on sale, but who knew, at the time, that the airlines were going to say that it did not fit in the overhead compartment and that the battery would self-destruct?
That was a very big disappointment for us, as were the drones that we sold in a couple of markets. We sold drones that were more like toys, but the airports said, ‘You know, we’re just not going to permit them in the airport environment.’
We’re trying to be innovative and come up with these great products, but sometimes we get our wrists slapped.
Skift: Unlike many retail brands, Hudson has hundreds of stores in different markets across North America. How does that affect how you market to customers and experiment with new ways of reaching flyers? Also, how do you approach competition with other retail stories in airport terminals?
Remoundos: We try to innovate very quickly as we see trends coming out in regular retail. We pride ourselves as the traveler’s best friend, and when you’re the traveler’s best friend, you really try to take the pain points of travel away from the customer. How can we make that experience, for you, more pleasurable? How can we make you relax before you get on the plane? How can we serve you better?
We actually started using mobile carts in some of the airports. A mobile cart allows us to take some of the best-selling products, put it on a cart, and bring it to the gate-hold areas so that the customer can actually purchase from your seat. You know, you’ve got customers that are what they call ‘gate-huggers.’ Gate-huggers get to the airport two to three hours in advance and run to get a seat at the gate.
So how do you engage with that customer? We started using mobile carts to bring us to the customer.
I try not to worry about the competition so much. We believe that absolutely every retailer is a competitor within the space, so it’s not just another airport convenience store that might be the competition. It’s every store because you’re vying for the time and the dollars of the traveling consumer. What we try to do is to create an environment of fun, of safety, of innovation. Again, talking about the hoverboard and the drone, although they weren’t successful, we were innovative in putting them out in that marketplace.
This series is presented by Boxever. The Skift content team maintains complete editorial control over these interviews and the selection of subjects.
For more insights from Boxever, please see the following reports: