UK. One of Europe’s leading retail advisory companies, Harper Dennis Hobbs, is on a mission to “keep retail moving” amid the pandemic.

The company, which works with a variety of retailers, from international brands to start-up businesses, prides itself on giving market-leading advice and insight to the world’s leading brands for nearly 30 years.

Its specialist travel division was set up in 2012 and provides consultancy services spanning all aspects of travel retailing, including market and trend analysis, commercial strategy planning, leasing advice, and revenue modelling and forecasting to retail brands as well as airports and other travel hubs.

Harper Dennis Hobbs is a Silver Partner at this week’s Moodie Davitt Virtual Travel Retail Expo.

In this interview Harper Dennis Hobbs Executive Director Travel Retail Simon Black shares his thoughts on how to meet challenges caused by the “seismic change” in travel retail.

The Moodie Davitt Report: What is Harper Dennis Hobbs’ major focus at the Virtual Travel Retail Expo?

Harper Dennis Hobbs Executive Director Travel Retail Simon Black: Considering the “seismic change” in travel retail

Simon Black: Our focus is to reach out and communicate with the industry as far and wide as we can. As a primarily consulting and advisory-based company, so much valuable work is initiated at the various ‘live’ conferences and expos which normally take place throughout the year.

It’s important for us that we maintain live links throughout the travel industry even during an unforeseen event like COVID-19, hence why we are so happy to be involved in the Virtual Travel Retail Expo.

We are showcasing the depth and breadth of our service for both retail brands and airports and other travel hubs alike. We are also launching our travel retail wholesale distribution channel. This is a very exciting new initiative which makes this event doubly important for us this year.

What are your major targets by geography or category as you seek to tap into a recovering market?

The reach of our services is extensive and we are available to provide support and clear practical advice in numerous areas of the market. Many airports will be looking to review their space and offer in this new reality, and our suite of diagnostic tools and commercial planning capabilities will be invaluable to any airport considering this type of project.

For brands, it becomes even more important to target the right airports and potential customers, and our knowledge and experience in commercial negotiations can ensure our clients get the most appropriate space and deal, whatever the category.

We can also help brands decide on the business model which suits them best, offering end-to-end support, whether in the wholesale distribution channel, or for brands operating their own standalone retail stores.

How do you view the impact of COVID-19 on the wider industry and what dynamics will drive the next stage in travel retail’s evolution? How should the channel engage with travelling consumers to ensure a sustained recovery?

“Travel retailers need to be smart, forward thinking and ready to embrace technology”

The industry is experiencing seismic change, not only from the impact of COVID-19, but also from the uncertain and undoubtedly turbulent consequences of Brexit and the potential impending changes to the tax-free shopping rules.

Travel retailers need to be smart, forward thinking and ready to embrace technology. As an industry we have not necessarily been at the forefront of the digital shopping revolution due to the physical nature of travel itself, but looking to the future it will be more important than ever for airports and brands to engage with customers before they arrive at the airport, and also throughout their onward journey.

All of the potential touchpoints to communicate and open a dialogue with the passengers must be explored, and significant investment may be necessary to be truly effective in this area.

How would you like to see industry partnerships evolve as we enter a new era for travel and travel retail?

“A positive outlook for the future is one which recognises that business models may have to change, and only with flexibility and open minds can we all navigate a successful path through the current challenges”

At HDH we strongly believe that the key to a successful future is through a true partnership approach, where all sides recognise that all parties are suffering losses through this crisis, and that an ‘I win, you lose’ position is not tenable.

A positive outlook for the future is one which recognises that business models may have to change, and only with flexibility and open minds can we all navigate a successful path through the current challenges.

In a market as challenging as today’s in travel retail, how will you ensure that HDH’s services stand out?

We pride ourselves on the relationships we build with all of our clients, and how we can leverage all of the collective experience we have at HDH. A lot of the work that we get comes from word of mouth in the form of recommendations from clients we have worked with, and for us this is the best endorsement.

We take the time to really understand the successes and positives within businesses we work with as well as the issues and challenges, in order to find the best and most effective solutions.

It’s also really exciting to be involved in this Virtual Expo – it feels like a really new and innovative way to make contact and form new relationships, and we are really happy to be a part of this inaugural event.