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Get Ready for Takeoff


By Chuck Hundley, [email protected]

International airports in Europe and Asia have been touted for their extravagant terminals that often include high-end retailers and restaurants. Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport offers the best of Parisian shopping with Prada, Burberry, Chanel and more, while the Singapore Changi Airport holds more than 230 retail shops and intricate “Van Gogh”-like gardens for travelers. North American airports are starting to follow suit with improved airport experiences and plenty of retailers moving in.

At the Philadelphia International Airport, Terminal F is receiving a $127 million expansion, which will add more than 60,000 sq. ft. of new retail and dining space. Detroit Metropolitan Airport also launched a new retail program for its McNamara Terminal that will bring in more than $13 million in retailer investment, as well as new national and local specialty shops.

Heightened security procedures bring passengers to the airport early, while flight delays and cancellations also lead to increased terminal time for travelers. The average dwell time (the time from arrival at the airport to boarding a plane) is between one hour and one and a half hours, giving retailers a huge opportunity to reach a captive audience. However, retailers considering opening airport operations must be prepared to address construction requirements compared to build-outs in traditional malls or stand-alone developments.

Experience matters

Similar to any construction project, it's important to have an experienced general contractor that knows the project to complete it on time and within budget. When it comes to airports, a general contractor’s experience can be the difference between success and failure.

A contractor that has worked in airports before will understand security protocols and the safety challenges presented by high traffic areas. They can effectively complete a variety of projects and will be prepared for problems. For example, by hiring an airport-savvy general contractor, you can often avoid the costly delays caused by getting materials and workers into the construction site without security delays. For airport concession build-outs, up-front planning and proper schedules are critical.

During the bidding process, ask contractors specific questions about past experience, handling security requirements, managing scheduling roadblocks and exactly how your project will be completed according to the airport’s timetable. Answers to these questions should provide a framework from which to make an informed selection.

Search high and low

Where’s the best place to look for a trusted, qualified general contractor for your airport project? Start with airport leadership. Most airports have a list of contractors that have successfully completed projects in the past. Leadership from other airport concessioners may also have insightful and unbiased suggestions for you.

Consider reaching out to your network of professionals and trusted colleagues for recommendations. Or if an architect has been chosen for your project, ask for a referral with specific airport expertise or experience.

Security obstacles

One of the biggest challenges when moving into an airport is successfully navigating on-site security. While the Transportation Security Administration screening procedures are constantly changing, an experienced contractor will stay on top of these practices and be prepared to comply with adjusted protocols.

Security processes differ from airport to airport. Some airports require the general contractor to obtain client-sponsored security badges with access for the duration of the project. Other airports sponsor badges through the marketplace, making them good for an entire year. Still others have security badge protocols that can take up to three to four weeks for approval. With all of these challenges, it pays to hire a general contractor who’s aware of all security requirements and includes the cost of security procurement in the initial proposal. Contractors without badges require individual escorts to the work site, a pricey drag on project efficiency.

Also, make sure the lowest priced bidder includes all security provisions in their estimate. Ask questions and get in writing what the general contractor has included, or not included, in their bid proposal. An experienced general contractor will know all about security badging and include anticipated costs in the initial proposal. Up-front planning eliminates lost time on the job and unexpected budget hits due to lack of access.

As every traveler knows, even the smallest scheduling delay can cause a ripple effect of postponements, cost increases and missed deadlines, which can put a project in jeopardy.

Open the doors

U.S. airports, pressured to find non-aeronautical sources of income, are fast recognizing the financial benefits of expanding retail operations. Taking advantage of this opportunity can lead to top-performing locations for retailers with the right plan. By starting off this adventure with an experienced general contractor that understands the ins and outs of airport construction, retailers can not only realize the potential of the airport retail market, but avoid turbulence along the way.

Chuck Hundley is the director of retail construction at Sachse Construction, Detroit. The firm can be contacted at [email protected].

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