The countdown has begun in the travel-retail world for the highly anticipated opening of Terminal 5 in the U.K.’s Heathrow airport. And Mark Riches, managing director of World Duty Free, has set his alarm for 4:30 in the morning on March 27, when the first flight is due to arrive at the new terminal, making it come alive.

There will be 40,000 square feet of beauty retail space in a total shopping expanse of 200,000 square feet.

Riches said the beauty retail area will be located at the foot of escalators.

“People will arrive in the heart of the store,” he said.

On the other side of the coin, the terminal has been laid out so departing passengers will be able to see their gates while standing in the retail area, thereby lessening their anxieties about how much time they have before catching their flights. To ease nerves further, a liquor bar has been set up in the center of the shopping arcade.

“Terminal 5 is the next opportunity for us to raise the bar again,” said Riches. “We run the business from the customers’ perspective. The biggest competitor is the airline lounges.

“To disturb them enough to get them out, we are going to put in a bar, not for tasting purposes, but a full-on bar,” he added. There will also be beauty services.

Riches makes no bones about showing his feelings regarding distasteful statistics, such as low penetration rates, or the percentage of airline passengers going into travel-retail stores.

“It’s criminal,” he said, estimating, “probably about 20 percent” of passengers venture into the typical airport shop.

Riches also had an answer when told that at least one cosmetics executive claims the beauty category has been underspaced at Heathrow. Riches maintains he has not consigned every square foot of space to individual brands for them to develop or “personalize.” Instead, he has reserved space for generic purposes, which has allowed him to put in 45 “young, edgy brands.”

“You can’t do that unless you are committed,” he said. “We got a chance to entertain customers. A generic space is not only for new brands, but if existing customers have an idea, well here it is. This raises the game for the customer. You don’t want to always be locked up. Retailers need flexible space so they can react. I can’t just go for the highest profit per square foot. I have to invest in new categories.”

This story first appeared in the October 26, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

He was referring to budding categories, such as watches, sunglasses and British food.

Riches paused, then added, “This is as exciting as it gets.”