By  on December 24, 2008

HAMBURG, Germany — A bartender pours colorful drinks in martini glasses, while across the aisle, a sales assistant offers chocolate truffles from a glass case. Meanwhile, a roulette wheel spins, workers happily arrange the latest selective scents, and others wait at the service desk to offer advice or wrap gifts. This is duty free? For Gebr. Heinemann, the answer is a resounding yes!

The company has roots in Hamburg since 1879, and is well regarded by vendors and distributors, but is starting fresh to build a brand name with consumers who are used to the nameless, faceless generic duty free stores.

Starting with their new 15,000-square-foot store in Hamburg’s airport, which opened Dec. 4, the family-owned company has decided to revamp and rethink the way they do business.

Heinemann Duty Free is a new retail concept bearing the family name, with the hopes that innovation will make for positive growth in the bruised duty free market.

While executives declined to give a volume projection, industry sources estimate that the new shop could reach $15 million to $20 million in sales volume in its first year, compared with 2007, when the location, which formerly consisted of multiple retail units, reportedly delivered sales estimated at $13.8 million.

“We want also with the service and the way we treat the customer to give them the feeling long term that you are really here like in a family, that tomorrow the people are saying, ‘Oh, unluckily in this airport, there’s not a Heinemann store,’” said Kay Spanger, who is a Heinemann board member, overseeing all product categories. He admits there’s a long way to go, but says now is the right time to start.

Heinemann is a big player in the European duty free market, with some 228 travel value/duty free shops and other boutique and specialty stores in 47 international airports in 18 countries. The company also runs retail outlets on ferries and cruise ships and at some international border crossings.

The new store concept begins in Hamburg, with future plans for Frankfurt and then beyond to locations where more space becomes available or store upgrades are planned.

Every two months in Heinemann Duty Free, a theme will be used to guide special activities and product displays, as well as influence 20 percent of the store’s wares. The first is Casino Mondial, complete with a roulette wheel, where travelers with a lucky streak can walk away with perfume miniatures, a minibottle of sparkling wine or a tiny boxes of chocolates. Make-up artists offer glamour looks free of charge. Highlighted are casino-themed gift items such as poker chips, and a Bond Girl-worthy display of La Prairie skin care items draped with high-end Swarovski crystal jewelry. Spanger is convinced that hybrid product displays like this one are more creative and exciting for the customer than the standard fare.

The top reasons fliers don’t stop for duty free products, according to observers, are time and convenience. Heinemann can’t solve this, but says it can help. Retail sections are distinctly labeled (women’s, men’s, chocolates) and clearly visible from across the store. And strategically placed monitors combine flight information, a digital store catalogue and a price scanner.

An attractive section designed by local architect Hadi Teherani plays off Hamburg’s harbor city style with gleaming hanging shelves resembling life preserver rings. They hold an interesting array of regional products beyond the usual candy and design items, quirky retro T-shirts, and regional food and liquors. Another part of the store offers Etro, Aigner, Burberry and Bulgari accessories. But overall, the store retains the bright lights and vivid colors of airport retail.

Jessica Wassmann, category manager of perfume and cosmetics, pointed out the new items in her store — high-end skin care and makeup from Kanebo and Sisley, and men’s products from Armani, Dior and Shiseido. Near one entrance, an employee arranged an eye-catching display of Armani’s new selective distribution scent trio, Onde.

Spanger pulls no punches when he talks about the current fluid state of luxury. He feels very strongly that beauty companies must keep their wares enticing and maintain strong brand identity by keeping distribution channels discrete. He hopes they will be willing to provide special editions for the chain, because “limited launches can be done as well in travel retail as in domestic — even stronger and more visible.” Spanger feels these firms must meet and match his company’s innovation level to insure their continued place on Heinemann Duty Free shelves.

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