Kayal has seen much of the evolution of the business first-hand either working for his family or in his own business, NewsLink Group, which he founded with partner Chris Korge in 2004 after the passing of his grandfather and his father’s retirement. The Miami-based company operates newsstands, sundries concessions, food and beverage concessions and combined newsstand and gift shops at Miami International, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Boston Logan International and John F. Kennedy International airports. NewsLink employs more than 500 people throughout its operations.
NewsLink’s own concession locations have evolved during its decade in business. The company’s flagship eponymous brand has expanded its selection to include grab-and-go salads and sandwiches and other food products while continuing to offer books, magazines and newspapers. The company’s print-related business remains strong even in the age of digital media, Kayal notes.
“What we’ve seen is that while the demand for print has changed, it is still there,” he says. “Our customers are telling us that nothing yet takes the place of a good book or a glossy magazine they can hold in their hands. The business is still changing, but from a newsstand perspective, customers are telling us publications are still viable and are something they demand.”
NewsLink also serves as the exclusive airport operator of the Juan Valdez cafes, and has partnered with world-famous artist Romero Britto for the Shop Britto storefront in Miami International. The company’s other concepts include Coco Bay, Air Essentials and BookLink.
The company is in the midst of refreshing the design of the NewsLink branded locations. “We’re known for doing a particularly good job branding our stores and spend a lot of time and significant capital making sure that remains the case,” Kayal adds.
Existing NewsLink locations feature dark wood fixtures, stainless steel trims, bright lighting and white stone floors. “The contrasts between the fixtures, trims and floors are very well-received in the industry and have won a lot of awards,” he says.
The company’s new design introduces more of a “light and airy” feel to the newsstands, including using lighter-colored distressed woods and lighter materials.
Beyond updating the designs of its locations, NewsLink is also taking big steps to change the very nature of airport concessions. The first move in this direction came in 2011, when the company opened The Shoppes at Ocean Drive, a 10,000-square-foot retail location in Miami International Airport.
The first-of-its-kind concept includes eight departments in one open retail environment. “What we do is take one large space, remove the walls and make it easy to move from one store to another, like in a department store, with a single, unified point-of-sale system so customers can purchase from any register,” Kayal says.
One airport inspired by the Shoppes at Ocean Drive is Tampa International Airport, which last year selected NewsLink Group to develop and manage a similar concept there. The concept, Shoppes at Bayshore Boulevard, will open towards the end of 2017. “Since the Shoppes at Ocean Drive opened, other airports identified that as a use they would like in their own terminals,” he adds. “We have won multiple awards for [the Shoppes] and have been recognized as a leader in the industry for developing that, as it had never been done before.” NewsLink will start opening several of their additional concepts including a watch/sunglass concept and a newsstand, at the airport in the first quarter of 2016.
The 6,600-square-foot Shoppes at Bayshore Boulevard will include three anchors that will serve as the points of a triangle-shaped design. A newsstand/gourmet market will serve as one of these anchors, with a Tommy Bahama shop and a Quiksilver/Roxy shop serving as the other two. “We’re taking what we’ve learned from Miami to the next level,” Kayal says. “We’re proud to have two big, nationally recognized anchors that are relevant to the marketplace within this concept.”
Other shops within the concept include Coco Bay, a women’s apparel and accessories retailer; Coastal Home, a housewares boutique; Shades, a sunglasses retailer; and Time Zone, which specializes in watches. The center of the “triangle” will feature what NewsLink Group calls the “Tampa Pop-Up Shop,” which will rotate different locally inspired concepts every few months.
NewsLink Group was also retained by Tampa International Airport to operate eight other retail locations, which will include an electronics retailer, a Victoria’s Secret and an additional NewsLink-branded shop.
NewsLink Group draws on the experience of its management and employees to complete its projects. Many of the company’s employees have worked for the Kayal family for decades, Raymond Kayal says.
“The biggest key to our success in our mind has been capitalizing on the experience of our staff and taking advantage of our great history and background while figuring out how to evolve as an industry and keep up with customer tastes,” he adds. “We have a number of folks in our company who’ve been with us for many years. The loyalty and commitment here is tremendous.”
NewsLink executive staff takes a hands-on approach to the company’s shops and overall operations. “The way we approach projects is something I have a lot of confidence in, and I think that has led to the loyalty and buy-in from employees we enjoy here,” Kayal says. “When we approach a project, it is very collaborative and very inclusive.”
The planning for the Tampa International Airport demonstrates NewsLink’s collaborative nature. “When we were trying to decide what to put in the Shoppes at Bayshore Boulevard, the first thing I did was close our corporate office for three hours and took everyone from our buyers, merchandisers and marketing departments to our receptionists and field personnel in our conference room for a brainstorming session,” he adds. “We gave everyone a platform, and followed that up with meetings.”
This collaborative approach gives NewsLink’s employees “a tremendous sense of ownership” in the company. “I think people want to be a part of something bigger than just clocking in and out every day, and I believe that’s the environment we’ve created here,” Kayal says. “Our people truly feel empowered.”