While he may have the word “digital” in his title, Neil Thompson, vice president, digital, HMSHost, considers himself a restaurateur. In this education session, he and Roxann M. Favors, C.M., assistant aviation director and chief revenue officer, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, talked about their journey of implementing unattended retail at a major airport. Thompson said the return of travel after the pandemic, combined with a shortage of labor, jumpstarted the whole digital movement at Sky Harbor. Favors added that the focus on digital is designed to enhance the “passenger experience.”
This article is part of a series from Automatic Merchandiser and VendingMarketWatch.com that recaps some of the sessions from the 2023 NAMA Show. Check out Automatic Merchandiser’s Vending & OCS Nation podcast, hosted by Bob Tullio, for more comments on the education sessions.
Both Thompson and Favors noted that the micro market industry and the brick-and-mortar use of self-checkout have helped ease the transition to self-ordering and unattended retail.
Multiple solutions are needed
Because passengers have differing time requirements in an airport, Thompson said his company had to implement multiple digital solutions. “Grab and Go is all about speed. Dining is all about the comfort of being able to go at your own pace,” he said. “For us, technology is about enhancing the guest experience, and because every guest needs to be able to move at their own pace, one single solution will not work for us.”
Unattended retail – impressive results
“We have found that sales from unattended retail such as self-checkout solutions can generate comparable sales to popular quick-service restaurants – using less labor,” said Favors. While the retail areas are unattended, Thompson said that some support is available to assist customers if they need it, but he believes the overall speed of transactions is resulting in impressive revenue results.
Grab and go
Favors said that they instituted grab-and-go kiosks for food between the men’s and women’s restrooms, and they are some of their highest grossing units, because passengers can quickly get what they needed.
What’s next for unattended retail
Thompson admitted that in implementing this digital technology at Sky Harbor, it was very much a “ready, fire, aim,” approach. Now that there has been such strong acceptance, it is time to focus on product selection and space to sales analysis – taking the same approach as micro market operators. Although sales have been extremely impressive, he is looking to see incremental improvement as product and space management is applied.
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Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser/VendingMarketWatch.com. He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up and specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry – coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically.
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