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Interview: California’s John Wayne Airport ushers in new retail era with its

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Introduction: John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California recently saw its first-ever duty-free store open to passengers. Named La Boutique, the shop is a partnership between Duty Free Holdings and DF Express.

The companies’ leaders, Duty Free Holdings CEO Philippe Dray and DF Express Owner Sonia Acevedo, and John Wayne Airport Director Charlene Reynolds spoke to our Senior Business Editor Mark Lane about the new shopping experience.

USA. The fast-evolving retail and food & beverage offer at John Wayne Airport welcomed a brand-new element on 30 May when the travel hub’s first-ever duty-free store opened for business.

The airside 735sq ft La Boutique store, a minority- and woman-owned joint venture partnership between Duty Free Holdings (DFH) and DF Express (DFE), has been created as the airport widens its commercial set up to cater to a growing international passenger base.

Pictured at the La Boutique opening (left to right) are San Clemente Councilman Chris Duncan; Duty Free Holdings CEO Philippe Dray; DF Express Owner Sonia Acevedo; Orange County Board of Supervisors Member Katrina Foley; and John Wayne Airport Director Charlene Reynolds {Credit for all La Boutique images: Daniel Lennox}

Shoppers at the store have access to an extensive collection of high-end spirits, cosmetics, fragrances and accessories from a lengthy list of internationally known brands, including Johnnie Walker, Dom Perignon, Chanel, Estée Lauder and Hermès. Complementing those big names, a collection of local brands is also available in-store.

The store – which has duty-free pricing for non-US nationals exiting the country and duty-paid prices for all domestic passengers (with the exception of spirits) – offers an innovative ‘click and collect’ programme. It allows customers to pre-order items online at laboutiqueairports.com, have their products delivered to the gate by La Boutique store associates and pick them up immediately before their flights.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) for the duty-free store was released in 2019 but plans to open were shelved due to pandemic pressures, hence it has taken five years to see the light of day.

The La Boutique store includes an extensive accessories selection featuring major global brands

Tender winner La Boutique, which at the time of its bid was operating a landside duty-paid store at Miami International Airport (later closed down during the pandemic), saw John Wayne Airport as the ideal location to make its break into airport duty free.

DFE Owner and La Boutique joint venture partner Sonia Acevedo explained: “Bringing the first duty-free store to John Wayne Airport and the ground-breaking move it represents was a major part of why we wanted to bring our unique store concept here.

“As an organisation that constantly innovates, having the ability to expose the 11 million plus travellers who go through the airport to the duty-free industry is a unique opportunity that made this location very attractive.”

Product display views inside La Boutique, highlighting the high quality of brands available in-store

Asked for a view on the key factors that led to the duty-free contract win, DFH CEO Philippe Dray pointed to La Boutique’s vision for the store, its promise of a luxurious shopping experience, the provision for the seamless click and collect service and a product assortment which he describes as “unique”.

Expanding further on the product offer, Acevedo commented: “We work with local vendors to bring their products to our stores so customers can take a part of Orange County with them when they travel. We also bring customers an assortment of well-known luxury products, usually not found at the airport stores, at significantly better price points than traditional retail stores, saving our customers up to -35%.”

John Wayne Airport Director Charlene Reynolds gave The Moodie Davitt Report her view on the factors that led to the selection of La Boutique for the airport’s first duty-free store. “La Boutique’s proposal from the 2019 Specialty Retail RFP process stood out due to its innovative hybrid model, which combines duty-free and duty-paid shopping in a single location.

“Additionally, through Duty Free Holdings’ commitment to supporting minority-owned businesses through its partnership with DF Express, La Boutique is in line with our values and goals at John Wayne Airport. Their proposal demonstrated an understanding of our needs, a sophisticated approach to retail and a promise of exceptional customer service.”

John Wayne Airport serves more than 11.3 million passengers annually and reaches more than 40 non-stop destinations in the USA, Canada and Mexico

On the decision to add a duty-free element to the retail portfolio at John Wayne Airport, Reynolds commented: “The opening of a hybrid duty-free and duty-paid store aligns with our ongoing efforts to enhance the travel experience for our guests. As travel rebounds, we recognise the growing demand for high-end retail options catering to a variety of travellers.

“This new addition provides a unique shopping experience, adding value to our retail options and supporting the vibrant economic landscape of Orange County.”

Most duty-free stores include the words ‘duty free’ in the name, so passengers are tempted in by the prospect of discounted/cheaper than high street price products.

Was it a conscious decision to omit the words from the branding for La Boutique? “We felt that a name like La Boutique better represented our vision for this and future airport locations,” replied Dray. “We see…



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2024-06-11 07:23:41

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