Traveling teens aren't forking over $40 for a Billabong T-shirt at Ron Jon's Surf Shop anymore. It's easier to find at table at T.G.I. Friday's. InMotion Entertainment now throws in a free carrying case if you buy a Panasonic Blu-Ray disc player.
Business is tough everywhere. But the recession smacked restaurants and retailers at Tampa International Airport with a double whammy: customers less willing to spend and fewer of them passing by their doors.
"We're getting pinched in the middle between the retail decline and the decline in the aviation industry," said Susan Stackhouse, CEO of Stellar Partners, which runs Ron Jon, Mindworks and the duty-free shop at Tampa International.
Passenger traffic at the airport plunged nearly 11 percent in May from a year earlier, slightly steeper than the decline for U.S. airlines overall. Overall, the revenue decline for stores (2.6 percent) and restaurants (6.6 percent) last month don't look too bad at first glance.
But a bunch of new offerings opened in the last year — Carrabba's Italian Grill, a Harley-Davidson shop and Brookstone included — mask the pain. Eight of 10 retailers open more than a year on the third floor transfer level were in the red, some deeply.
Revenue at T.G.I. Friday's has been off about 20 percent for most of the year, said George Tinsley, who owns the restaurant with airport master concessions contractor HMSHost.
"I can't remember being down even 10 percent," said Tinsley, also the owner of restaurants in Airside C and outside the airport. "People are holding onto their money tighter." The new Carrabba's a stone's throw away isn't helping either, he concedes.
At In-Motion Entertainment, which sells video and audio gear, sales at Tampa International were off 23 percent in May. Customers still buy $500 headphones, though one in the $100 range sells far more, says Eden Goldberg, vice president of marketing and business development. She finesses the current dilemma. "There's a change in the perceived need of what … used to be a necessity."
That's a big problem for airport businesses. Travelers really need only a few things. A drink if you're thirsty, a burger if your stomach's growling. Maybe toothpaste or aspirin or makeup if you're out. Pretty much everything else qualifies as an impulse buy.
Mindworks, Stackhouse's company's interactive toy store, specializes in "guilt gifts" parents bring home from business trips. The hottest item: battery-operated toy animals that roll around on a display table out front. "There's no question the magic price point is under $20," she said.
Unlike at other airports, TIA has helped tenants — shops, restaurants, rental car companies and others — with rent rebates of 5.5 percent, or $2.6 million in total. Tinsley and Stackhouse credit Tampa International's executive director, Louis Miller, for sharing their pain.