GREECE. Dufry-controlled Hellenic Duty Free Shops today celebrated the Grand Opening of its revamped retail offer in Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport’s new-look intra-Schengen zone.

The Moodie Davitt Report was on hand and brings you below extensive pictorial coverage and an in-depth interview (below) with Hellenic Duty Free Shops CEO George Velentzas.

Underlining the importance of the occasion, Dufry CEO Julián Díaz flew in from New York for the ribbon-cutting and a tour of the impressive, elegant and spacious new-look shopping environment.

The refurbished commercial spaces occupy 2,026sq m, an increase of +32%, distributed across 13 stores. The new shops anchor a full-scale refurbishment of the intra-Schengen area, including a change in the configuration of the terminal and the security filters.

A red-carpet day for Hellenic Duty Free Shops as it continued its heavy investment at Athens International Airport

“This is the last stop for visitors to Greece and their last chance to get a taste of Greece” – George Velentzas

Velentzas spoke passionately about the work and passion that had gone into the project, noting that some 30% of the products on display are Greek. Selling Greek products was “a national duty”, especially during such difficult economic times, he said. “Our customers can buy a plethora of products but the dominant spot goes to Greek products,” he added proudly. “We’re very happy about that. This is the last stop for visitors to Greece and their last chance to get a taste of Greece.”

He praised the teamwork of all involved in the challenging refurbishment, noting evocatively, “One bee cannot produce honey on its own.”

He continued: “For us, the development and renovation of the intra-Schengen area is a clear commitment to long-term investment in one of the key airports in which we operate in Southern Europe, so important to Mediterranean tourism. With these new stores, we have achieved an entirely new and exciting offer for passengers who travel though Athens International Airport.

The opening is marked in time-honoured fashion today at Athens International Airport by (left to right) Dufry CEO Julián Díaz, Hellenic Duty Free Shops CEO George Velentzas and Folli Follie CEO George Koutsolioutsos

The Grand Opening was celebrated in appropriately grand Greek style at the superb Ark restaurant in Athens. (Left to right) Martin Moodie; Hellenic Duty Free Shops CEO George Velentzas and Deputy Managing Director Alberto Iglesias; Dufry Divisional Chief Executive Officer Southern Europe and Africa Pedro Castro; Dufry CEO Julián Díaz; and Hellenic Duty Free Shops Business Development Director Pantelis Velentzas

“Our common vision with the airport, to bring something truly different to airport shopping on a global scale, whilst celebrating the Greek heritage of our stores, has brought us a range of stores which we hope travellers will enjoy when they spend time here and are sure they will remember when they reach their destination.”

Athens International Airport CEO Yiannis Paraschis praised the retail development and noted the vital role that the airport (and its commercial revenues) play. “We are the locomotive of the Greek economy,” he said. “Our investment will not stop here; we will go further and we will go faster.”

The largest store inaugurated today was the 1,227sq m walk-through duty free shop, sited immediately post-security. It houses fragrances and cosmetics on the left and a multi-category offer to the right, that embraces wines & spirits, destination merchandise, confectionery, tobacco, toys, souvenirs, electronics and travel accessories.

‘Kerasma’, a Greek treat, is offered each day, giving people the opportunity to enjoy a last taste of Greece before they fly

Several new beauty brands have been added, including Aqua di Parma, Jo Malone, Benefit, Bobbi Brown and Armani Privé, especially selected for the Athens Airport passenger profile.

The elegant Jo Malone boutique is a new addition to the intra-Schengen offer

A wide variety of Greek natural perfumes and cosmetics such as Korres, O Live, Creta Net and Luxurious form part of the assortment, all created using natural herbs, honey, vanilla, fig and other indigenous Greek products.

Besides its diverse, extensive and beautifully displayed local offer, the walk-through store is notable for its high ceilings; striking brand installations; spacious, classy and well-ranged perfumes & cosmetics offer; a small but alluring tobacco area at the front of the store; and an outstanding gourmet range. A wine-tasting machine allows travellers to taste any of 16 Greek wines, with an experienced oenologist on-hand to introduce customers to Greek regions and wineries.

“Our shops also promote our Greek side through the local products that have a dominant position on our shelves. We are very happy that during these difficult times we are able to support and assist local societies and local economies.” – George Velentzas

Besides the main walk-through shop, the revamped retail zone embraces 12 other stores. These include Max Mara (making its Greek airport debut); Michael Kors; Emporio Armani;  Hugo Boss and a Zeus+Dione boutique dedicated to the high-end Greek luxury clothing and accessories brand.

High-end Greek luxury clothing and accessories brand Zeus+Dione is beautifully represented here

[Click on the YouTube icon to view the Zeus+Dione spring/summer 2017 collection]

Other prominent names are Links of London; Victoria’s Secret; Folli Follie; a Swarovski + Swatch boutique; a Sunglasses boutique; a Korres Greek natural products boutique; and two Hellenic Duty Free Shops express stores.

The Timebox shop-in-shop offers a wide collection of watches while the ‘Cava’ section boasts the group’s new Hellenic Gourmet concept corner store, themed and designed to offer travellers a last taste of Greece in the form of traditional and contemporary foods, wines and spirits.

Two Chinese customers study a Tissot watch at the Timebox boutique

The retailer said that great care has been taken to train sales assistants about the products and bring a sense of pride when sharing them with others. ‘Kerasma’, a Greek treat, is offered each day, giving people the opportunity to enjoy a last taste of Greece before they fly.

Terkenlis, a bakery also in the ‘Cava’ area, features a range of freshly baked Greek pastries and treats including tsoureki (a popular Greek Easter sweet bread), cakes, tarts and syrup sweets. The smell of the freshly baked products invites passengers into the store.

Alluring aromas from the freshly baked products in the Terkenlis shop draw passengers into the store


[Terkenlis was featured in UK celebrity chef Rick Stein’s popular Long Weekends programme last year]

Díaz told The Moodie Davitt Report that he was very impressed by the high-quality transformation that Hellenic Duty Free Shops had achieved at the airport. Judging by the consumer reaction today, he will not be alone.

Dufry CEO Julián Díaz and Hellenic Duty Free Shops CEO George Velentzas celebrate a grand occasion

Athens International Airport CEO Yiannis Paraschis: “We are the locomotive of the Greek economy. Our investment will not stop here; we will go further and we will go faster.”

Martin Moodie (fourth from left) joins in the celebrations with Hellenic and Dufry senior management

George Velentzas: “It is a national duty to promote Greek products,” especially in such difficult times

Mob rule: A flash dance marked the Grand Opening in spectacular style

A MAC boutique at the front of the walk-through store leads off a very strong fragrances & cosmetics offer

The revamped offer combines blockbuster international brands such as M&M’s with a diverse array of local products

DIVERSE SPECIALIST SHOPPING OFFER INCLUDED

The new openings also include 12 additional stores, among them Max Mara, a brand which Hellenic Duty Free Stores is introducing to the Greek airport market for the first time; and  Michael Kors.

Other top names include Emporio Armani; Hugo Boss; Zeus + Dion (a Greek brand offering high-end luxury clothing and accessories); Links of
London; Victoria’s Secret; Folli Follie; a Swarovski + Swatch boutique; a generic sunglasses offer; a Korres Greek natural products boutique; and
two Hellenic Duty Free Shops express stores.

THE GEORGE VELENTZAS INTERVIEW

Just after the opening, Martin Moodie asked HDFS CEO George Velentzas about the significance of the development and about the wider HDFS story.

Martin Moodie: Mr Velentzas, tell us about your own personal journey with HDFS. You joined the company around 37 years ago, an amazing story in itself.

George Velentzas: I consider myself to be lucky because I have had this great experience, which was accompanied with great success stories over so many years. I did my best, I strived, but all my efforts have always led to growth, to more shops, to bigger shops, to increased sales, new cooperations and new acquaintances. It has been a voyage full of experiences with great people who believed in our vision and who served it loyally. I wish similar voyages to young generations.

“Organisations must be ambidextrous, they must seek to improve their operations in basic business, but also to create new and independent structures that favour new entrepreneurship”

Back in 2011 you said this: “Growth is the key word. It is the present and the future for us and for our country. Growth is not just a means to survive, it is the essence of entrepreneurship; so it has to be pursued irrespective of circumstances.” Does that spirit still hold true?

Of course this is still valid. Both the country and the businesses are active in a very intense and competitive environment. If you cannot grow, your vital space will be conquered by somebody else, by the competitor. This is why I insist that growth is a prerequisite to survival. Organisations must be ambidextrous, they must seek to improve their operations in basic business, but also to create new and independent structures that favour new entrepreneurship.

“The acquisition by Dufry was an excellent moment in time”

“To have the most satisfied customers who will bring back to their homeland the best possible image of Greece,” is a key Hellenic focus says George Velentzas

From the founding in 1979 (with just four shops), you’ve seen HDFS grow into a major player. You’ve seen privatisation and the sale to Dufry. Tell us about the highs and lows down these years.

I wouldn’t say that I have experienced major lows. On the contrary, I have experienced growth. It is rare but extremely pleasant to see that every year and over so many years, sales have always increased compared to the previous years. This is result of a lot of effort and cooperation. However, this does not always do enough to bring about positive results in life. When it comes to the privatisation of the company, you are addressing a person who passionately supports privatisation, as being a fundamental reform leading to growth.

The acquisition by Dufry was an excellent moment in time. On one hand, it was the incentive for us to introduce new techniques in various sectors of our activity and on the other hand, to export actions and strategies crowned with success over the past years to the parent company.

How different a company is HDFS today under Dufry control? Does it and can it retain a Greek spirit?

HDFS belongs to the largest travel retail group worldwide and this is a blessing because you can convey the experience of the parent company being present in 67 countries to your shops. That means new systems, synergies and bigger markets.

Our shops also promote our Greek side through the local products that have a dominant position on our shelves. All Greek suppliers that meet the conditions are included in our family, so we are very happy that during these difficult times we are able to support and assist local societies and local economies.

The last few years have been tremendously difficult for Greece. How has the economic situation and, more recently, the EU-imposed austerity measures, affected the company?

The most significant impact was the reduction of the purchasing power among Greek travellers. This was expressed with much fewer sales to Greeks, both on domestic and international flights. However, we are constantly undertaking promotional activities addressing Greek consumers to satisfy their needs as best as we can.

You had a “stable” first quarter – how would you sum up the market currently?

The first quarter represents only 12.5% of the annual sales, so on one hand it does not provide any indication and on the other hand, it does not anticipate the annual result.

“The Chinese are by far our best customers. This means that they buy a lot of products of significant value.”

Greek tourism is expected to reach an all-time high this year at least in numbers (maybe not in revenue). Is that translating into sales?

It is natural to expect more sales when you have more tourists. However, this is not always true since the financial crisis is not just a Greek phenomenon. Available income of the middle class is reduced on worldwide basis so the average spend per passenger (SPP) is constantly reduced everywhere. Nevertheless, we are optimistic that we are going to have a successful year.

Chinese tourism to Greece is growing. How much of a factor is the Chinese dynamic for HDFS?

The Chinese are by far our best customers. This means that they buy a lot of products of significant value. This is why the increase of Chinese tourists shall result in an increase of our sales.

Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura recently revealed the creation of a new legislative framework for the Greek tourism industry to reduce over-regulation. With more direct flights opening up that must be a big positive for HDFS?

Certainly. Each initiative to simplify processes and in our case the increase of direct flights, especially to the Greek islands, should have a very positive contribution on the results of our company.

What are the key challenges and opportunities for HDFS?

  • The refurbishment of our shops in 14 airports
  • The refurbishment of our shops at Heraklion Airport
  • Constant improvement of the product mix [tailored to] the destinations of the travellers
  • Constant training of the personnel and the establishment of new rewards systems
  • The promotion of Greek products
  • To have the most satisfied customers who will bring back to their homeland the best possible image of Greece.

 Tell us about today’s opening. What were the key principles and motivations behind the opening of the very impressive intra-Schengen stores at Athens International Airport (AIA) that we’ve just viewed.

Today’s opening of the new intra-Schengen store follows the opening of the new extra- Schengen store. Refurbishment and modernization are essential and, as a rule, this attracts travellers’ interest. This refurbishment was realised with the cooperation of the AIA administration and Dufry headquarters; the objective was to increase sales by adopting a new walk-through concept which brings the traveller through the shop while he walks to reach the gate.

“The agreement with Fraport shall allow us to design spacious, elegant and plentiful shops. It will be a chance to grow.”

HDFS recently struck a 30-year agreement with Fraport to operate retail stores at 14 Greek airports. The deal will see space more than doubled from the current 5,000sq m to over 12,000sq m across the airports. That’s a big deal in anyone’s language – tell us what it means for the company?

In many of the 14 airports, the situation at present is unacceptable. You cannot have a decent shop in only 40-50sq m (Mykonos, Santorini). This is why the agreement with Fraport shall allow us to design spacious, elegant and plentiful shops. It will be a chance to grow.

How ambitious is the retail development programme at the various airports?

There is no limit to our ambition regarding the airport shops. For our shops, in the 14 airports, we will make the best possible use of the spaces. In AIA, you can see our work; now it remains to refurbish the shop at Heraklion Airport where we will invest significant capitals and this project will be complete in Spring 2018. Depending on how the concession at the new Heraklion airport is finalized, we shall decide on our investment programme for this airport.

How important is creating a real sense of Greek place at your stores?

It is very important to us, and this is the reason why, as I said earlier, we focus on promoting local products since they are our wealth and our ambassador abroad. We strongly believe that along with the kindness of our personnel, travellers will make beautiful memories.

“Beautiful memories: ” We focus on promoting local products since they are our wealth and our ambassador abroad,” says George Velentzas

Friendly and knowledgeable staff encourage passengers (including a Moodie Davitt Report representative of course) to sample some outstanding Greek wines. The wine-tasting machine allows travellers to taste any of 16 wines and learn about the country’s wine regions and wineries.