Make us your home page
Instagram

Stellar Partners' CEO drives impulse buys at TIA and other airports

Susan Stackhouse is chief executive officer of Stellar Partners, a Tampa company that owns airport shops in 12 cities across the nation, including this Ron Jon Surf Shop at Tampa International Airport, as well as Mindworks and Dog*E*Works.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Susan Stackhouse is chief executive officer of Stellar Partners, a Tampa company that owns airport shops in 12 cities across the nation, including this Ron Jon Surf Shop at Tampa International Airport, as well as Mindworks and Dog*E*Works.

Not that long ago, the stuff you could buy at airports was pretty much limited to T-shirts and key chains, chewing gum and magazines.

Today, airport retail is in full bloom. Susan Stackhouse started in a business running duty-free shops. She bought the company and expanded into newsstands and specialty retail shops.

Based in Tampa, Stellar Partners now operates in a dozen U.S. airports, including Tampa International, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International and major airports in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Stackhouse developed two concepts: Mindworks, a toy and electronics store for kids, and a gift shop for dogs and owners called Dog*E*Works. Stellar also owns licensing rights to Ron Jon Surf Shop airport locations.

She recently talked to the Times about why Victoria's Secret was a bust, and about selling "Doggie Mom" T-shirts and surfboards at the airport:

How is specialty retailing different at an airport from another environment?

(It's) all impulse. Very few people plan to shop for anything in a specialty store at an airport. That's not the reason they're here.

So, how do you pull them inside the store?

We have interesting merchandise in the front, so in that 30 seconds while someone's walking past your store, you can catch their eye. It's not like they're window shopping in a mall. We do that in Mindworks usually with something that's moving … like a little battery-operated animal that makes noise, is playful and funny. Sometimes, we have airplanes flying from the ceiling.

There's some stress involved in being in an airport, and we (try to) offer a little bit of an escape. Our mantra (for employees) is "Have you had fun today?" They want to make sure people have fun, and they're in the store — and that usually translates into sales.

Where did you get the idea for Mindworks?

We did the one and only FAO Schwarz ever done at an airport, at (Chicago's) O'Hare. It was the mid '90s when they were doing some big expansion and popping up in malls. We thought it was very successful. But after a couple years, they decided they didn't want to do it anymore.

What we learned from it was … people were willing to spend money on unique, high-end merchandise for children. Up to that point, a cheap T-shirt or a cheap teddy bear was about all you could get for a child at an airport. That's the ultimate guilt gift when you've been on a business trip and you need something for a child.

Is Dog*E*Works all about guilt gifts for lonely canines?

It happened because I got a dog after going my whole adult life without one. She's a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Lily. I realized how much money I was spending on her. We started researching and (found) pet retail was the second-fastest-growing category behind electronics.

It's a combination of merchandise for the dogs and about dogs. You can find a jersey of your favorite sports team for your dog. Picture frames that are breed-specific. Matching T-shirts for the owner and the dog, such as "Doggie Mom" and "Mom's Doggie." We sell a lot of water bottle adapters, a little screw-on thing that you can put on a regular plastic bottle of water that the dog can drink out of.

What kind of stores haven't worked in airports?

Victoria's Secret didn't work very well. Women don't like to undress in an airport — it's not the way we like to shop. It's too rushed.

What new concepts do you like?

Vino Volo. It's a wine bar and they focus a lot on local wines and also sell bottles. So you can come in, have a glass and take some home. There's a brand, Express Spa, that's been doing very well. Where they have enough space, they'll do full massages, manicures and pedicures. It's great.

There's a company called Zoom that's doing vending machines that are branded. They have a Best Buy vending machine that's all electronics. It's all recognizable brands. People know exactly what they're getting. If they want an iPod, put their credit card in and here it comes.

What still surprises you about your business?

(At Ron Jon) we sell a lot of surfboards, maybe one a month. … We originally put them in as part of the decor in the first store in Orlando. We ship them for free.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Stellar Partners' CEO drives impulse buys at TIA and other airports 10/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Water Street Tampa unveils illustrations showing downtown's transformation

    Business

    TAMPA — Water Street Tampa, the sweeping, 50-plus acre redevelopment project in Tampa's urban core, has unveiled new images and video of what the downtown district will look like upon completion.

    Strategic Property Partners released a conceptual image of what the Tampa skyline will look like once its redevelopment of 50-plus acres of downtown will look like. [Photo courtesy of  of SPP]
  2. Florida ranks high for workplace equality between men and women

    Working Life

    When it comes to the workplace, Florida ranks fifth in terms of gender equality, a WalletHub study released Tuesday found.

    Florida ranks high in terms of equality between men and women in the workplace. Pictured is Sandra Murman, county commissioner in 2015, talking about the differences in pay between men and women. | [Times file photo]
  3. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion

    National

    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]
  4. Ford, Chinese partner look at possible electric car venture

    Autos

    BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. and a Chinese automaker said Tuesday they are looking into setting up a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China.

    In this April 23, 2016 photo, attendees take smartphone photos at a promotional event for Ford Motor Company ahead of the Auto China car show in Beijing. Ford Motor Co. announced an agreement Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 with a Chinese partner to look into forming a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China. [AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein]
  5. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]