THE NETHERLANDS. Schiphol Airport Retail’s renovated Exquisite store at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport “serves consumer desire for exclusives and uniqueness in the best way in travel retail”.

Schiphol Airport Retail Managing Director Simon Asmus’ backed up his bold statement – made at the official opening of the store yesterday (4 April) – with an overview of some of the highlights and innovations.

Celebratory moment: From left to right, Schiphol Airport Retail Managing Director Simon Asmus, Royal Schiphol Group Director of Consumer Products & Services Tanja Dik, and Gebr Heinemann Purchasing Director Liquor Tobacco Confectionery Rüdiger Stelkens conduct the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony.

The company, a joint venture between Gebr Heinemann and the Royal Schiphol Group, has made it a priority to offer a broad selection of limited-editions and rarities. It has tried to appeal to both its traditional audience and the growing number of younger buyers and collectors who are willing to invest in high-quality products.

That necessitated a new approach, and a new look and feel to the 136sq m store. A key feature is the aroma table. It is made of marble and brass and features five trumpet-like devices that, with the squeeze of a rubber bulb, release the aroma of a core taste of the wine or spirit it promotes. Decorated glass jars stage the respective aroma and guide customers through the different flavours as they move around the table, encouraging them to fully immerse their senses into the highlighted products before actually tasting them.

“The aroma table aims at changing customers’ perception of a product by highlighting their unique flavours rather than arranging them by specific category or brand,” said Asmus.

“It is lifting the experience to the next level in customer perception,” Asmus said of the aroma table. “It offers a different way to view the product and to experience for themselves what their preferences are in an emotional way.”

Instead of simply letting travellers taste the finished product in the beginning, the aroma table aims to take travellers on a journey of discovering their preferences, and so they might discover they like spirits they had previously not considered or had thought were not for them, according to Gebr. Heinemann Purchasing Director Liquor Tobacco Confectionery Rüdiger Stelkens. [Product samplings and tastings are available on request too].

“The aroma table sets a new benchmark in travel retail when it comes to enticing the shopper in new and exciting ways. It also builds a perfect bridge from marketing to tasting – and tasting builds the bridge to buying,” he said.

“But even those travellers who don’t turn into buyers will still memorise the experience at the Exquisite shop and be left with a new, more sensual impression of the promoted brands.”

Flying bottle: An illuminated cabinet displays a liquor bottle levitating in space, with no fixtures or support.

The so-called flying bottle furniture also aims to enhance the customer experience. The illuminated cabinet displays a liquor bottle levitating in space, with no fixtures or support. The secret technology “leaves travellers puzzled and marvelling at the installation and thereby triggering further curiosity and attention”, according to Schiphol Airport Retail.

“With the aroma table and the flying bottle we are offering our suppliers a multitude of opportunities here to hone their own company profile and thus generate growth for themselves. Both concepts are very promising and we are therefore considering expanding these prototypes to other Heinemann retail sites as well,” said Stelkens.

Another store highlight is the walk-in humidor, which features a wide range of Cuban cigars in a premium environment. As reported, Exquisite was named as a ‘Habanos Specialist’ earlier this year.

These in-store experiences appeal to all age groups, Asmus noted, but crucially while older generations might still buy without them, they are necessary for Millennials to make a purchase.

Modern look: The Exquisite store first opened in 2011 but has been revamped to appeal to a new customer profile.

Exquisite’s new store design also helps bridge the gap between generations. The classic look and feel of the previous store has been preserved but integrated with a more modern design, Asmus said. The store is warmer, lighter and features more natural colours. A front window has been removed so the entrance is more open than it used to be. “There is a greater impact and it is much more impressive to customers,” he said.

The redesign has been accompanied by a renaming of the shop: the original name ‘Exquisite’ is now supplemented by ‘Finest Wine, Spirits & Cigars’, making the product range immediately clear to travellers.

Seal of approval: The ‘Habanos Specialist’ seal is awarded to cigar stores (around 700 worldwide) that present an especially wide range of Cuban cigars in a premium environment.

As well as taking into account the wants and needs of different age groups, the store refurbishment has also considered the desires of the dominant nationalities. Chinese travellers make up the largest share of customers, followed by passengers from the UK and the USA as well as a growing number of travellers from India.

“One reason why we had to change the shop is that it was old fashioned,” said Asmus. “That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it didn’t match the customer profile.”

The product mix reflects growth trends. “Whisky continues to increase in sales and volume over almost all destinations,” explained Asmus. “Wine has been growing, especially in the past two years, while Cognac is also growing but is more stable.”

The store offers a warm and natural look and feel, with pleasant background jazz music playing.

As a result, whisky is now positioned in the most prominent spot at the front of the store and is clearly visible to travellers making their way from Schiphol’s Lounge 2 to Lounge 3. It replaces Cognac, which is now positioned slightly further back at the top of a small staircase. There was strategic thinking in this positioning, according to Asmus. Most Cognac customers are Chinese, and in the old store layout many of them would walk through the store and ask where the Cognac section was – missing it in the old location at the front of store.

There is an enlarged wine assortment, which is displayed beautifully in the back of the store. There are some new white spirits too, with a particular focus on Sense of Place, but there is more emphasis on gin and vodka in other Schiphol Airport Retail stores.

While Cognac growth is stabilising, it remains popular among Chinese customers in particular. Cognac’s importance is reflected in the section dedicated to it, with Louis XIII featuring prominently.

For Asmus, the final key factor in the quality of the store is the staff. “The store highlights and finishings only go half way; the staff and their hospitality fill in the other half of the store,” he said.

For example, store staff and managers regularly communicate with the “20-50 black book” regular customers who make purchases above €50,000, and often know their wishes in advance. “Many choose Amsterdam as a transfer airport just to have a look at what’s on offer, so customer service is the key,” Asmus commented.

That customer service extends to all travellers who enter the store, while there is always at least one Chinese speaker on hand to be able to meet the needs of Chinese travellers.

“People make it work,” said Asmus. “It is their customer service and the great knowledge they have on products and customers. We’re not just here to sell products but to share the passion we have.”

A palette of neutral and earthen tones creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere, while copper and brass design elements build a contrast and set eye-catching accents, according to Schiphol Airport Retail.