Small busi­nesses take wing at BWI Air­port

Pi­lot pro­gram gives re­tail­ers lots of po­ten­tial cus­tomers

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Lor­raine Mirabella

When Newnew Nor­ton de­cided to set up a shop in an air­port ter­mi­nal, she knew to ex­pect long hours, tight se­cu­rity and un­pre­dictable shop­ping pat­terns.

Still, she jumped at a chance to join an en­tre­pre­neur­ial pro­gram at Bal­ti­moreWash­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Thur­good Marshall Air­port. From a kiosk in the South­west Air­lines ter­mi­nal, Nor­ton sells loose and bagged teas in­fused with laven­der, mint, jas­mine, car­damom and other herbs she and her fi­ance grow on a Mar­riottsville farm. She’s pro­mot­ing her teas as a healthy al­ter­na­tive with medic­i­nal ben­e­fits.

“There’s no other place I would be able to at­tract this many peo­ple at one time,” said Nor­ton, a 27-year-old Gwynn Oak res­i­dent who owns New Se­crets Tea. “It’s a lot of vis­i­bil­ity.”

Nor­ton’s shop is one of four mi­crobusi­nesses in a pi­lot pro­gram that the air­port and Fra­port USA, the man­ager of the fa­cil­ity’s re­tail con­ces­sions, launched this year to help lo­cal en­trepreneurs jump-start busi­nesses and grow into per­ma­nent re­tail­ers at the air­port.

“What we hope to do is take th­ese small­est of the small busi­nesses in the area, grow their pres­ence here so they grad­u­ate from cart to kiosk to larger store, and then on to other prop­er­ties in other air­ports,” said Brett Kelly, vice pres­i­dent of Air­mall Mary­land, a sub­sidiary of Fra­port that op­er­ates BWI re­tail.

By re­mov­ing bar­ri­ers that come with air­port re­tail, the pro­gram of­fers mi­crobusi­nesses a greater chance of sur­vival, said Ricky Smith, the air­port’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

“Th­ese are very small busi­nesses that oth­er­wise would not have the ca­pac­ity or ex­pe­ri­ence or fi­nan­cial where­withal to com­pete in an en­vi­ron­ment as com­plex as an air­port,” Smith said. “We see this as a good eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­nity.”

Fra­port pur­chased and de­signed the re­tail kiosks for the busi­nesses, which also re­ceive ad­vice on pric­ing, in­ven­tory man­age­ment and staffing from ex­perts at Mor­gan State Uni­ver­sity’s Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter. That kind of help is de­signed to sub­stan­tially re­duce startup costs, which can be more than $1 mil­lion to open and equip a tra­di­tional store at the air­port, Smith said.

In ad­di­tion to New Se­crets Tea, Launch­Pad re­tail­ers in­clude Flaw­less Damsels Bou­tique, which sells ap­parel and ac­ces­sories; Roshe Cos­met­ica & B.E.A.T. School of Makeup Artistry, which of­fers pro­fes­sional makeup and lash ap­pli­ca­tions; and Fash­ion Spa House, which of­fers lash and brow ser­vices and sells cloth­ing, ac­ces­sories and ve­gan sk­in­care prod­ucts.

Dozens of busi­ness own­ers com­peted to join the inau­gu­ral group of Launch­Pad re­tail­ers. Fra­port, which leases space from the air­port and then leases that space to ven­dors, be­gan re­cruit­ing busi­nesses at the end of last year and had to whit­tle a field of 75 busi­nesses down to just four. The ven­dors signed one-year leases that Air­mall will re­new as long as the re­tail­ers meet cer­tain op­er­at­ing re­quire­ments, such as main­tain­ing air­port re­tail hours of 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Cyn­thia Rumph sees the air­port as an ideal place to get feed­back from a di­verse au­di­ence and iron out the wrin­kles in Fash­ion Spa House, which she owns with her hus­band, Ke­torus Good­ing.

Now at nine em­ploy­ees, the busi­ness sells on­line, at farm­ers mar­kets and from a Har­ford Road shop. Rumph hopes to go into fran­chis­ing to ex­pand Fash­ion Spa House to air­ports around the coun­try.

The air­port op­er­a­tion is pro­vid­ing valu­able les­sons, she said.

“It’s a good way to see what’s work­ing or not, “said Rumph, a 43-year-old Parkville res­i­dent and for­mer nurse. “It’s taught us to man­age in­ven­tory way bet­ter and to close the sale fast. This is a time-sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­ment, and they’re in a hurry. The in­ven­tory has to stay ex­tremely or­ga­nized, and the check­out time has to be in un­der a minute.”

She has learned to al­low for ex­tra time to have in­ven­tory de­liv­ered, be­cause all mer­chan­dise has to be scanned through se­cu­rity. And she de­pends more than ever on her staff.

“As a re­tailer, I am used to set­ting my own hours and hav­ing hol­i­days off or clos­ing early,” she said. “That’s not an op­tion here. You have to be open when the air­port is open.”

In an air­port set­ting, where trav­el­ers of­ten are rushed and un­der stress, busi­nesses that “make peo­ple feel bet­ter,” may have a bet­ter chance at suc­cess, said Hung-bin Ding, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of en­trepreneur­ship at Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity Mary­land.

Nor­ton said she be­lieves her her­bal tea busi­ness will ap­peal to trav­el­ers. She be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing with dry­ing and mix­ing herbs for tea while be­ing treated for cer­vi­cal cancer in 2008. She is now cancer-free.

“I want to help women be­come health­ier, be­cause that’s what I went though,” said Nor­ton, who stud­ied to be­come an herbal­ist.

Ex­po­sure at the air­port, she hopes, will help boost her brand. Though she hasn’t turned a profit, she feels a sense of ac­com­plish­ment in learn­ing how to keep track of in­ven­tory, re­tain em­ploy­ees and man­age staffing for the ex­tended hours. She be­lieves she is on track to move to a more per­ma­nent space.

“It has taught me a lot,” she said. “If I can conquer and last this en­tire year, I can do any­thing.”

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