It's where flyers on a layover at Washington's Sea-Tac International can turn to for a manicure. Passengers-in-waiting at airports in San Diego and Sacramento are about to get a Butter London location, too. Or, if a manicure is better attained during lunch, Butter London will open at Starbucks' headquarters in two months, and the chain is planning to plant itself at other corporate offices in the near future.
Butter London's business model is based on a standard retail concept: Put units where the people are. In this case, the people are professionals — one in five customers is a man — who seemingly have more discretionary income than discretionary hours and, in the few minutes they can spare, seek out expedient services that don't scrimp on the luxury to which they've become accustomed.
"We wanted to go for these unique, high-traffic areas. After 9/11, with the increased time you had to be at the airport, it seemed like a natural fit," said Sasha Muir, who moved to Seattle from London four years ago and founded Butter London in 2005. "Heathrow has had the most wonderful brand offerings and consumer shopping experiences for years. The American airports are just at the beginning of understanding how to service their passengers in an enjoyable and meaningful fashion."
Airport units put Butter London at the crossroads of two burgeoning industries: nail care and airport concessions. Sea-Tac estimates that an airport visitor spent on average of $10.35 on concessions before boarding a flight last year, an amount that's up 16 percent from the year before and that's projected to increase 10 to 12 percent this year.
Convenience is not all Butter London provides. Muir stressed that convenience can snag a customer once, but repeat patronage isn't built on that factor alone. Butter London's goal is to catch its customers on their return trips, entice them to buy the company's nail products online upon their arrival back home and draw them to Butter London spots outside airports as well.
Butter London's value proposition beyond convenience is its positioning between spas and bare-bones neighborhood nail joints. "There is a huge polarization in the [nail] market," said Muir. "There are high-expense offerings, then you have low-end, low-quality offerings. There is a gap in the market to offer low-cost, high-quality services."
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