The World's Largest Resource for the Cart, Kiosk, and Temporary Retail Industry

Summer 2007 Blue Skies Ahead for Airport Wireless

Iris Goldschmidt’s vision of the future began to form a decade ago in the middle of a crowded airport. On her way to California to visit her son, she walked through Philadelphia International Airport and noticed the construction underway on new mall-style stores. Instantly seeing the busy airport’s retail potential, she imagined opening a cell phone and accessories store much like the one she already owned in a nearby Philadelphia strip shopping center. By the time she touched down on her return flight, she had designs for her store solidified in her mind. Of course, turning those plans into reality wasn’t easy.

A store is born

When Goldschmidt first approached the Philly airport’s cart program managers with the idea for her cell phone and accessories store, the meeting didn’t exactly go her way. The MarketPlace/Redwood folks were not immediately sold on the potential of her concept. Instead of the in-line space Goldschmidt wanted, airport management suggested she start out with a cart—in a nearby office building. If that test went well, they would consider leasing her a cart in the airport.

Not thrilled, but undaunted, Goldschmidt opened the office building cart, racked up the sales for six months, then returned to the airport with sales reports in-hand, more determined than ever to secure her in-line store. Management still wouldn’t give her a store, but a cart was available in terminal B. She took it, happy to finally be in the airport.

Sales went well at the cart, and Goldschmidt was happily growing her business—with help from her husband, Jack, previously the VP at a tech firm—until a fateful meeting with airport management. She recalls listening along with the airport’s other cart retailers as a cart program manager explained that the program had been developed for entrepreneurs to experiment and test various retail concepts, and that “opportunities were to be given to others, so at any moment current retailers could lose their space” to make way for new ideas, Goldschmidt recalls. “It was a pivotal point in my business.”

Her focus immediately shifted from cart start-up mode to how to propel the company to the next level. Knowing that brand names held a lot of sway with airport management—and consumers—Goldschmidt started her search for a high-profile partner that could help her grow from a cart to a store where she could establish some permanency.

imageShe soon zeroed in on Comcast, a Philadelphia-based regional phone and cable operator. A deal was struck: The store would bear the Comcast brand name and the company would supply Goldschmidt with a small part of her cell phone and accessories product lineup.

But only two weeks later, as Goldschmidt was putting the final touches on the store design, her excitement turned to disappointment when Comcast decided to nix the deal. Feeling as if she had been “sucker punched,” a persistent Goldschmidt went right to the top, tracking down Comcast’s chairman and CEO, Brian L. Roberts, for a heart-to-heart phone call. After listening to Goldschmidt—and witnessing her determination and drive first-hand—Roberts reversed course.

Goldschmidt’s long-dreamed of cell phone and accessories store, bearing the Comcast brand name, opened in 1998, more than a year after she had stood in virtually the same spot with a vision of her business forming in her mind.

A brief layover

As the Comcast store started to take off, Goldschmidt was thinking expansion. For months, which turned into years, she tried to secure additional stores in other airports, but something always got in the way as the competition for airport retail space increased. Finally, she spotted an opening for a store in Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport. She was waiting for a flight to Cleveland to meet with airport management, when the second plane hit the World Trade Towers on 9/11 and the airport came to a standstill.

The store in the Philadelphia airport was closed for a week as airport personnel grappled with a host of security issues. “For a small business, that was a big impact for us,” Goldschmidt recalls. The larger travel industry was hit hard, too, and it took some time for enplanements, a key barometer of airport health, to return to pre-9/11 levels.

But with the help of her family and employees, Goldschmidt built back business as travelers returned, with excellence in customer service her guiding priority.

A store in Newark Liberty International Airport followed, and by 2003 the worst of the dip in travel was over and the airport retail market much improved. That’s when Palm announced it was looking for an operator to shepherd its expansion into the airport marketplace. Goldschmidt was by then an experienced and well-respected entrepreneur who knew her market, had a track record of commitment to customer service and employed tech-savvy employees capable of selling the Palm products. What’s more, she had successfully weathered the airport retailing lows, exhibiting considerable management strength and persistence in the process.

The next level

imageShe signed an exclusive agreement to integrate the Palm products into her current stores and open and operate Palm’s future airport locations as a combined-concept retailer ready to offer business travelers and tech enthusiasts their fill of cell phones and accessories, PDAs, and miscellaneous electronic gadgets. The new stores were to open under various names, Airport Wireless/Palm, Palm/Airport Wireless and even just Airport Wireless or simply Palm, when airport management expressed a preference for that branding.

Store openings followed fast and furious—about eight in the first year of the Palm agreement. More than a few of Goldschmidt’s family ended up joining the growing business in addition to her husband, Jack—a daughter, son-in-law, son, brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Goldschmidt is now president and CEO of this Wellington, FL-based company with 220 employees and 28 locations in major US airports.

The growth of the company from one cart in 1998 to a planned 30 stores by year-end was due to “lots of work and a lot of effort, but all of it owed to the cart program,” Goldschmidt says. If the airport hadn’t had a cart program, “they would never, ever have given me the opportunity—ever. It’s because of that whole program that I am where I am today…. I think if anyone can avail themself of taking an opportunity to present a new idea or concept, [a cart] is the way to test it.” If consumers don’t respond, the losses are not nearly as great as they would be with a full in-line store, she points out. Conversely, if the concept takes off, there’s plenty of room for growth, as Airport Wireless has shown.

The airport market offers retailers constant foot traffic, but success there still requires intense discipline and commitment, Goldschmidt adds. She remembers many long days that began before 6 am and ended after 10 pm. She worked 365 days a year, “No vacation, no days off. It was tough.

“I don’t think I was ever home except to put my head on the pillow at night,” she says. “And that happened for a long time, so [the success] didn’t come from sheer luck. It was a lot of hard work and perseverance.” Comparing her retail life to that of Tom Hanks’s character in the movie “The Terminal,” Goldschmidt says, “That was me. I had many days falling asleep in the restroom, getting into the stall and putting my head down and saying, ‘Oh God, please let me have a little bit more strength.’ It was something.”

imageNot to mention that her product category offered its own challenges. “When you’re in the electronics industry the margins are slim,” she explains. “And [airports] want street-level pricing, so you have to conform your products so you’re at least within that level and still supply your customers with the best possible options. That’s a real tough one. And then, technology that changes constantly.”

When she was on a cart, there were the usual space issues, but Goldschmidt sharpened her buying and display skills to make use of every inch of space and was able to build a healthy repeat- customer base, which she attributes in large part to her emphasis on excellent customer service. “It all started from that cart—from a philosophy that I brought along that the customer is the most important and you have to satisfy them,” she says. “We win awards all the time for our customer service.”

The most recent include Airport Revenue News naming Airport Wireless “Retailer with Highest Regard for Customer Service,” “Best New Specialty Retail Concept” and “Best Retail Specialty Brand Operator” in 2005. ARN followed in 2006 with “Best Retail Specialty Brand Operator” and “Best Airport Retailer.”

But more important than industry awards are the customers who contact Goldschmidt to praise her employees. She recalls a customer who called to say he’d stopped in a store to buy a $2 cassette and walked out having spent $1,200. He told Goldschmidt he’d been thrilled to find an employee with a high level of product knowledge who was able to zero in on the right products to solve his tech problems. She remembers the customer remarking, “If we weren’t public yet, we should be.”

As a private company, Airport Wireless doesn’t disclose financials, but Goldschmidt says the company’s “doing very well and growing.” She’s particularly excited about a new project called “Tech Showcase,” which she describes as a mini tech trade show. “Each manufacturer has their own area to present their latest and greatest products, which are for sale there. Big brands will have their displays in the airport in our stores and that’s very, very exciting for us.”

The T-word

Reflecting that her path to success was neither easy nor overnight, Goldschmidt says it’s due in large part to the T-word: “Tenacity. I don’t take no for an answer. I’ve always taught my kids, if someone says ‘no’ that means go one step higher,” she says. “I really think it’s my tenaciousness that has allowed me to get where I am. My cart was right outside my current store in Philadelphia. The store is now 1,300 square feet. I tell people, ‘You see that cart over there? That’s where I started.'”

Anayat Durrani

Durrani, a Los Angeles-based freelancer, covers business, fine art, law and politics for a variety of publications. She can be reached at .

Useful Links

Looking for more information on wholesalers and products? Check out our directory of useful links.

  • Smoke Smart
  • Ginalli Milano
  • Shylaa Creations
  • Himalayan Salt Corp
  • Chapel Hills Mall
  • Data Information Center
  • Nature Spirit Inc.

  • View the full directory
Publications of ICSC
© 2000-2015 International Council of Shopping Centers
1221 Avenue of the Americas
41st Floor
New York, NY 10020
Phone: 781.709.2420
Fax: 781.829.1042