Winter 2016
Airport Retail Success

Jill Franklin, owner and founder of Jill’s Chocolates of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, dreamed up and designed her business specifically with the Halifax Stanfield International Airport in mind; and that was before she had a retail spot in the airport and before she knew how to make chocolate or run a business. Franklin had traveled in Japan and loved the fact that in all of the train stations there was beautiful food one could have wrapped up as a gift and take to their destination. She thought it would be a great idea to replicate that closer to home in Nova Scotia. After looking into the idea further, Franklin discovered that no “signature” chocolate existed for Nova Scotia and she thought it would be a wonderful item to offer to travelers as they leave Halifax, the capital of this eastern maritime province, located on the Atlantic coast of Canada. What she didn’t know then was that it would be more than a decade before she would get to open her kiosk in the airport.

Jill’s Chocolates was born as both a mission and a labor of love for Franklin. She had to learn how to make chocolates and how to make a business out of it. Once she felt ready, she pursued a retail space in the airport. It was much more difficult than she had imagined it would be. She tried for years, to no avail, to get noticed and have a chance to make her dream come true. Then finally, Franklin got her shot.

Persistence pays

An entrepreneur’s center that helped her with business financing in the past emailed her about a partnership they were launching with the airport to showcase local businesses by placing a kiosk in the airport. Franklin aggressively pursued the opportunity and succeeded. Now she was making some headway. “After years of trying, I finally got in front of the right people,” she says.

She was invited to sell at the showcase for four weekends and each time Franklin says she made it her mission to pitch her concept to the airport’s leasing manager. Every time she was told there were no spaces left. Finally she learned that a space had opened up and she took it. In February 2015, after more than a decade of work and just in time for Valentine’s Day, Franklin realized her dream of opening her chocolate shop in the departures lounge of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

So, how’s the business going? “On par with expectations,” Franklin says. “I love to hear customers comment that our products are ‘perfect little gifts’ for the person caring for their dog or for the friend they are visiting.” She has kept her price point for a box of chocolates at $10 so that it is easily affordable. Each box of chocolates is packaged in a gift bag with colored tissue and the company’s logo stamped on the bag so it “looks like a wrapped gift when the customer leaves
the kiosk.”

As for challenges, Franklin says staffing has been her greatest trial. The shop has to be open early, at 6 a.m., and it stays open late to for departing evening flights. There’s normally just one staff member at the kiosk and they have to be pre-screened and cleared through airport security so it’s not possible to have a long list of last minute fill-ins. On her first week having the shop open she had one employee that called in unable to get to work 50 percent of her scheduled shifts because of weather.

Real-world advice

Franklin has advice for fellow entrepreneurs that would like to locate in an airport:

Know your product and know the market you will be serving and whether the two go together. For example, she says she watched a custom frame shop in the airport struggle. It was not the right fit; however, consumables—like chocolate—are often a great fit, she says.

Keep prices reasonable and realistic. She sees numerous retailers premium price their goods just because they’re in the airport. She keeps her prices consistent across sales channels.

Make your kiosk and packaging attractive. Franklin’s company is founded on the idea of chocolate as a gift so each customer leaves with a box of chocolates in a gift bag with colored tissue paper.

Reduce staffing headaches by offering commissions. Franklin has found that offering sales commissions to her employees has reduced absences. She’s also better at identifying and hiring responsible people that want to help build her business.

Sampling is huge! Using samples to draw customers to her kiosk has been central to ringing in more sales,
says Franklin.

More importantly, Franklin says, “You need to think about how you can be unique for your location. We connect our products to Nova Scotia with our signature blue boxes and by using ingredients like sea salt and blueberries. If you can find what it is about your business that makes it connect to the travelers coming through, you may be a good fit as airport retailer.”

Melissa M. Kellogg

Melissa M. Kellogg is a freelance writer specializing in small business, marketing, social media and retail business management. She is based in Edwards, CO, and is a regular contributor to GIFT SHOP magazine. Her work has also been published in various newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Mexico
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