What You Need to Know About Launching an Airport-Based Business

Launching an Airport-Based Business

If you’re part of the “new year, new me” club, that will have no doubt come with a certain set of new year’s resolutions. While some of us may be off trying to get fitter or make changes in our social lives, others may be looking at a professional overhaul – maybe a new job or, perhaps more dauntingly, a new business venture.

When it comes to starting your own business, one of the key factors in your business plan will be location and scope – as in how many customers you can reach from your base. These days, with the high street dying, it’s hard to say where the best place to position yourself is. There is, however, one location you may not have thought about for your business, and that’s your local airport.

But why would you want to run a business in an airport? We’ll explain here.

The advantages of running an airport-oriented business.

What is arguably the biggest challenge a start-up business will face? The answer, for many, will be generating and maintaining a solid customer base. For most businesses, that means careful brand positioning and a strong, calculated marketing effort, all of which cost money of course.

Head to an airport, however, and your business is essentially shoved in front of the customer. Airports receive high footfall daily, usually from patrons with a significant amount of time to spend in there. What’s more, your business and a handful of others are the only option for passengers looking for last minute food, toiletries, reading material and so on and so forth. Particularly in today’s culture of convenience, many passengers will in fact willingly look to sort out some of the key travel items at the airport in order to save another shopping trip.

Thus, via your business location, you have navigated past one of the most immediate concerns for a start-up business. There are of course, countless other challenges to think about, but one of the biggest is out of the way.

The busiest airports in the UK

Unsurprisingly, you’ll need to head over to London to find the bulk of the busiest airports the UK has to offer, with four of the top five in the south east region. Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and London-Luton all feature, with Manchester sneaking into third as the only non-London airport represented in the first five. The top ten (for 2018) as a whole, according to Statista, are as follows:

  1. Heathrow: 80m passengers annually
  2. Gatwick: 46m
  3. Manchester: 28m
  4. Stanstead: 28m
  5. Luton: 16m
  6. Edinburgh: 14m
  7. Birmingham: 12m
  8. Glasgow: 10m
  9. Bristol: 9m
  10. Belfast International: 6m

So, the more passengers, the merrier – right? To an extent, yes, but bigger airports and higher footfall come at a cost in terms of your rental rates and the strength of your competition. Would you rather try and take a smaller slice of a bigger pie or a bigger slice of a smaller one? That will somewhat depend on the type of your business and your location, but really it should primarily come down to your business plan.

What sort of business should you run?

Anyone who has visited an airport will know the rough selection of services that a typical one offers. Your three primary options are a shop, a dining or drinking establishment and transport services.

If you’re looking to run one of the first two, bear in mind a few factors that could provide challenging. The first is the competition around you – is what you’re selling unique enough to generate business over your rivals? Secondly, can you get a spot in the airport? Most major airports usually house major brands and little else, but you might be able to find success at a smaller airport. Thirdly, can you afford the rent? A spot in Heathrow may offer you a shot at 80m potential customers a year, but you can guarantee you’ll have to pay for the privilege.

If those are three challenges you can overcome, you can enjoy the benefit of ever changing, ready to buy customers. Plus, your location dictates your product mark-up be slightly higher than usual, to reflect the supply and demand nature of last-minute shopping.

If you can’t get a spot inside the airport, what about on the kerb outside? The third viable option, running a taxi service outside the airport, gives you access to thousands of passengers daily either excited to arrive at their location or desperate to get home. Again, it’s highly competitive, but typical customers will offer you good fares on considerable journeys.

All of these options will require considerable start up capital. A shop or restaurant needs stock and staffing, while a taxi service requires a shiny new cab to separate from the competition (Cab Direct are a go to option on this front). The money you require up front should be just one key feature you analyse meticulously in your business plan, which should be developed in full before you make any big move.

Whatever it is you choose to do in the end, an airport provides a unique and potentially lucrative base for your new business venture. While your start up may face similar challenges to many others, the customer footfall an airport organically provides will give you an edge straight from the off.