When the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) decided to significantly enhance the customer experience at Washington’s Dulles and Ronald Reagan National airports by enhancing their retail and F&B offering, it was no surprise that they chose current concessionaire, MarketPlace Development, to do it.
After all, it is one of the largest airport concessions development and management companies in the US, and it has been responsible for marketing, leasing and management services for the concession programmes at both airports since 2012.
This translates to 119,000 square foot of shops and restaurants at Washington Dulles and an 85,000 square foot concessions programme at Reagan National operated on behalf of MWAA.
However, this was no run of the mill upgrade as MWAA wanted a complete makeover of the concessions programmes and they wanted it quickly. The transformation, ultimately, involving the opening of a total of 119 new concession outlets at the airports within a 26-month time period.
To make it happen, MarketPlace is working closely with MWAA to execute the airports’ vision to “provide a truly exceptional passenger experience by improving the existing concessions programme through merchandising and improved product choice, customer service and operations”.
And all has gone to plan so far, for as of June, 2016, 85% of all of the concessions at Dulles and Reagan National have been converted or reconstructed.
MarketPlace’s experience in establishing innovative plans for other airports – it manages the concessions programmes at Philadelphia International Airport and New York–LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B – and history of capitalising on distinct passenger behaviours informed the execution of the redevelopment at Washington’s airports.
Key services provided for MWAA throughout this project include: master planning, sizing analysis, detailed merchandising and space planning, market research, tenant outreach, leasing and construction management, financial projections, budgeting and transition planning.
Separated into five development phases, the purpose of the master plan for Reagan National and Dulles International was to ensure that passengers would enjoy immediate improvements, that their experience was not compromised during the transition period and that the final transformation would provide them with world-class brands and iconic, local restaurants.
In stage one of each phase, MarketPlace implemented an extensive outreach programme in tandem with MWAA that included a public meeting. And, over the course of all five phases, more than 1,000 local, regional and national businesses attended to learn about the concessions opportunities at each airport.
Additional outreach was implemented via direct contact, press releases, social media posts and the MarketPlace website.
In stage two of each phase, MarketPlace identified and selected prospective tenants through a competitive process with particular emphasis on local, minority and small business participation.
It then worked with MWAA to ensure that the store designs met the aesthetic, operational and code requirements to provide the optimal passenger experience.
For the final stage in each phase, they worked closely with the tenants’ contractors to manage the construction of new concessions, with the expectation that it be done in a timely manner to minimise impact on the travelling community.
Their collaborative approach to delivering on all the design and construction management requirements has involved close co-ordination with many parties, including: MWAA’s architectural and engineering teams, base building contractors and building inspectors and tenants (along with their respective designers and contractors).
MarketPlace’s thorough and transparent tenant outreach and leasing initiatives result in concessions programmes that offer the travelling public national brands and local favourites, while also creating opportunities for many local and ACDBE businesses to expand into the airport industry.
In 2015, their tenant outreach was recognised with a MAXI Gold Award from the International Council of Shopping Centers in the ‘NOI Enhancement’ category. This year, they were honoured with ACI-NA’s Associate Member ‘Inclusion Champion Award’ for promoting business diversity, in part due to their outreach activities at Dulles International and Reagan National.
As a result of this outreach, MarketPlace was able to select an exemplary mix of ‘better brands’ representing local, regional and national businesses. Each brand was initially selected to align with the merchandising plan. Next, they conducted a competitive assessment based on brand quality, revenue generation, small business participation and design.
Another defining factor was the brand’s ability to fit the needs of the travelling demographic within a given airport.
“We’re very conscious of curating the right selection of shops and restaurants and therefore the profile of the passenger is essential in determining where the best fit lies,” says MarketPlace Development’s co-founder and president, Paul McGinn.
In the case of Washington’s airports, the hope was to appeal to the full spectrum of passengers, from international luxury seekers at Dulles International to weekly road warriors at Reagan National.
Dulles International Airport is the international airport linking the nation’s capital to the world. The mission of MWAA is to create an exceptional shopping experience for international, domestic, business and leisure travellers, blending spacious restaurants from revered chef personalities with distinguished international brands.
Reagan National passengers benefit from the ease and convenience of domestic flights. Here, the mission of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is to focus on a blend of local, regional and national concepts and to create a comfortable environment for passengers to enjoy a quick bite or fulfil a shopping need from a familiar merchant.
Sense of Place
Although passenger demographics may differ by location, the needs for an elevated experience and a distinct sense of place have remained top priorities.
One of the challenges for Reagan National and Dulles has been the duality of being both local and national gateways.
“Taking on the redevelopment of Reagan National and Dulles International Airport’s food and shop programme has been particularly rewarding as it has been an opportunity to introduce the travelling public to Washington, DC, and to showcase the unique offerings of our nation’s capital,” enthuses McGinn.
As of April 2016, local businesses operate or own 57% of the new concessions at Reagan National and Dulles. At Reagan National, these include Kapnos Taverna, Cava Mezze Grill, Ben’s Chili Bowl, &Pizza, Taylor Gourmet and Lebanese Taverna. At Dulles International, travellers will find local spots Chef Geoff’s, Bracket Room and &pizza.
Customer reaction and ROI
MarketPlace Development and MWAA are in the final phases of selection and design. So far, the results of this redevelopment process have proven to be well worth the investment.
A total of $85 million has been raised in tenant capital investment since the beginning of the project, which has helped to increase sales by over $24 million at both airports in just over two years. In addition, associated annual rental revenue between both airports increased by $7.5 million between 2013 and 2015.
“Working with Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, we have helped create world-class airport retail environments at both airports, increased passenger satisfaction, contributed to the airports’ revenue streams and more than delivered on retailers’ expectations,” says McGinn.
And if the ultra positive customer reaction to the changes to date are anything to go by, the airport must be getting something right.
On Yelp, one fan commenting on their experience in Bar Symon at Dulles, wrote: “Wow, super impressed! One of the best meals I have ever had in an airport. Ordered the Lola with a side of Rosemary fries for lunch which was such a great choice”.
While another, excited to get a taste of DC at Ben’s Chili Bowl while at Reagan National, commented: “I never made it to the original location...but when I saw this at Reagan National I just had to try their famous half smoke with chili... it lives up to the hype!”