This airport retailer’s success comes from close relationships with front-line employees, airports and airport leasing companies, and manufacturers. This year, one of the highest acclaimed and fastest growing airport chains is launching the next generation of its stores. Airport Wireless, which started as a 90-square-foot cart selling cell phones and accessories in the early 1990s, will soon include two new concepts aimed at providing hot technology and helpful accessories to airline passengers in the US.
Iris Goldschmidt started selling cell phones back when there were only a few models to choose from and mostly business travelers were shelling out the money for them. When she got the opportunity to open an in-line store at the Philadelphia International airport, she partnered first with an early service provider and then a leading manufacturer but quickly learned the fickle nature of technology customers.
“Airport Wireless was always more about cell phones and accessories, but my mother learned that to be successful in the technology field, she would have to offer the latest and greatest. That’s where the idea of Techshowcase came from,” said Ilene Berman, who helped her mother open the second Airport Wireless location and expand the company.
The first Techshowcase location opened in late 2007 with a very specific model: it would only sell the hottest new technology on the market, and new products would constantly be moving in and replacing older ones.
The store targets tech-savvy corporate travelers. Berman said this model requires close collaboration with manufacturers: the company transplants their merchandising platforms for their products into the store, which is designed to serve as a simple backdrop. The benefit of such collaboration is that Techshowcase often serves as a testing ground for new products.
“Our customers know when they walk into a Techshowcase, they are seeing products that are either unavailable anywhere else or still widely unknown,” said Berman.
Soon, the company will be introducing the newest line of stores that will target a very different audience, she said. Instead of focusing on the savvy corporate traveler, the new model will provide equal space for entertainment and professional products and attract leisure travelers looking for a new toy on vacation. Berman said there will be more focus on hardware than just accessories, will include additional technology categories, and will be a joint effort between the company and a yet-to-be announced, highly acclaimed industry leader.
Currently, there are 41 Airport Wireless and Techshowcase locations across the country: from New York City to Oakland, Calif. and from Cleveland, Ohio to Miami, Fla. Some airports feature both stores, and Berman said the new model would complement its sister stores.
Berman explained that she, her mother, and their management team use a very simple process for developing new concepts and improving their stores: talking to customers and employees.
“We never want to be too far away from the front lines, nor will we ever rely just on our corporate support staffs talking to each other; keeping our ground staff in the loop has been a huge part of our success,” she said.
In addition to visiting all the stores on a regular basis, the management team for the company has emphasized a robust training program from the beginning. The company welcomes manufacturers in all of its stores to introduce new products and train employees on how to use them. Additionally, each store provides its own sales training, and the corporate office runs regular educational programs on management strategies.
Berman said the company promotes from within nearly 100% of the time and hires even part-time associates with the goal of bringing them up through the ranks.
“Sales experience is not necessarily required; more of what we look for is a love of technology and an openness to learn,” she said. “We can show them how to interact with the customer or manage a store, but without that passion for the product, they won’t bring anything to the company.”
And in this company, selling isn’t about pushing product down the throat of a curious traveler. Berman explained that when her mother first started selling, she offered her customers knowledge and excellent service, an emphasis that still exists today.
As a result, the company has been nationally recognized on numerous occasions. Last year, Tech Showcase was awarded best new concept by the Airport Revenue News, the main outlet for the industry that also holds conferences each year for airport developers and vendors. In previous years, Airport Wireless won best Disadvantaged Business Entity (DBE) operator, best retail brand operator, and best overall specialty retailer.
Having a DBE label from the federal government does give the company an edge when airports are looking to diversify their retail offerings, but Berman said more than that, it’s created a mindset of opportunity.
“My mother started this company completely on her own, and we’re proud to say that at least 80% of the employees are minorities,” she said. “We all believe that everyone can succeed and deserves an opportunity to do so. We bring people together with the love of technology and are thrilled to bring more opportunities to more people.”