Core Plus Duty Free’s year one journey of growth and innovation

Operating from a modest kiosk at Melbourne Orlando Airport (MLB) in Florida since 2019, Core Plus Duty Free opened a 500-square-foot store in MLB in January 2023 as part of the official inauguration of the airport’s Terminal Renovation and Expansion. The small airport, which serves Central Florida (home of Disney World in Orlando), handled 747,000 passengers last year, the second highest traffic volume in its history. Almost 107,000 were international passengers, nearly all of them coming through British holiday company TUI, whose season runs from April through the end of November.

Core Plus Duty Free is operated by Legacy Consulting Group, an ACDBE and HUB certified small business founded by Brittany Williams Leverett, who is the company’s president and CEO. TMI spoke with Williams Leverett about her first full year in operation in the store and the lessons she has learned.

“We had a fantastic year. We grew our gross sales by 66% between 2022 and 2023, and raised our transaction-per-basket to $54 and change,” she says.

In 2023, MLB completed a $72,000,000, 86,000-square-foot expansion that brought a new terminal, restrooms, food, beverage and retail space, plus new passenger bridges able to support wide- body aircraft. This expansion allowed Core Plus Duty Free to move into its new space, says Williams Leverett.

“The past year has been such an adventure. I was still working a second tech job when we opened the store. But I finally stepped into my full time entrepreneurship in June of last year and haven’t looked back since then,” explains Williams Leverett.

“I really focused on the store, focused on getting us more products. For example, we went from having one tobacco provider, Weitnauer, and now we have JTI onboard, and, fingers crossed, we’re hoping to add another one pretty soon.

“We also have some wonderful new brands, some of which are travel exclusives – we added Noshinku, an award-winning natural ingredient nourishing hand sanitizer, and La Bella Donna, all- natural mineral cosmetics and Pooka infused body butters, both of which are women-founded brands.”

Brittany Williams Leverett (right) and the Core Plus Duty Free team.

Williams Leverett believes that some of the most valuable lessons she learned over the past year have come about while helping her staff learn and flourish.

“The most fun part of the past year, an area that I feel often gets overlooked, is that I really spent time to help develop my team.

“I started paying attention to all of their different strengths and matching their strengths to the needs of the business. I promoted almost 100% of the team that I had at the time to unique roles that helped us cover departments.

“Most duty free businesses have departments for inventory management, for merchandising, for sales floor, but as a little unicorn of a company I had to build this.

“So in the off-season, after we finished our UK flights with TUI in November, I sat down with the team so we could work on developing standard operating procedures. I told them that I wanted their buy-in with this, I wanted us to build this together.

“And it is incredible what they’ve created. We have training guides, merchandising in planograms, and full receiving and processing staff. Whereas before I was in the mix of it, now I had a chance to move from working in my business to working on my business.

“I am very proud to highlight this, especially as we’re moving into year three, and this typically doesn’t happen. Before, with my multiple jobs, I was concentrating on just staying afloat.”

Core Plus Duty Free has now been operating for more than a full year in the new terminal at Melbourne Orlando Airport, including a full season of international TUI flights.

“In the ‘off-season’ we are open for domestic travelers, and are seeing higher fragrance purchases, as well as higher sales of other novelty travel items. But we cannot sell duty free liquor and tobacco to domestic travelers,” says Williams Leverett. The international flights begin again in April.


Customer Service Accolades

The Core Plus Duty Free website is filled with positive comments from travelers, that praise the customer service, products and helpful staff.

“It’s been really fun teaching my team how to upsell, teaching them how to move products, placing them in the right places.

“I’m really grateful for my Aunt Claudia, who taught me what she did during the time she was alive. She said always be flexible and open to change, and not be afraid when things change. Because often times, it’s for the good. (Brittany launched Core Plus Duty Free with her Aunt, Claudia Williams-Hope, in 2018. Claudia died suddenly in 2020.)

“We lost team members, we gained team members, and it was always for the better. I learned I could trust people and let them do their thing. I stood back in the store one day, and I was in the way. Everything was being handled for me.”

To sum up the past year, Williams Leverett says she would like the industry to see her company as a “partner in success.” “We have embarked on a journey of growth and innovation. We have strategically partnered with exclusive brands, and transformed the retail experience at this airport with a focus on discovery, luxury and one-of-a-kind customer service. The results so far speak for themselves.”