Powerhouse European retail consultancy Harper Dennis Hobbs brings its vision and expertise to North America Travel Retail

When London-based strategic retail property consultancy Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH) announced the hire of Nadine Heubel as Senior Managing Director to head up travel retail operations in North America this summer, it was a clear indication that HDH is serious about ramping up its operations in the region.

In the 26 years since it was founded in London, HDH has grown to be a market- leading real estate advisory firm with a roster of global blue-chip brand clients, and a very strong specialty in travel retail. In December of 2019, HDH was acquired by full-service U.S. commercial real estate services business Newmark Group, Inc., a market leader in New York and Los Angeles, which is ranked as the #1 brokerage firm in Manhattan by retail deal volume. The acquisition was seen as a way for Newmark to further expand its European and global presence. At the same time, the deal opened a clear path for HDH to strengthen its operations on the U.S. side of the Atlantic.

Simon Black, HDH Executive Director

“We are ambitious in our plans to expand our business in North America and create a truly global travel retail business,” noted HDH Executive Director Simon Black, in the announcement of Heubel’s appointment. She had most recently been the CEO of Heinemann Americas, Inc.

recently spoke with Black and his team about the company’s plans for the future and the unique capabilities that it brings to the region.

According to Black, HDH, as a retail consultant and advisor, handles about 200 different retailer brands, from luxury like the LVMH Group, Richemont and Burberry, to mid-market and high street brands, like JD Sports, Accessorize UK plus a range of F&B concepts.

The company has a number of other specialties, including a corporate
services team which helps retailers restructure themselves after bankruptcy and administration processes, as well as a 10-year-old travel retail division, which is headed up by Black.

“We have grown the Travel Retail business since 2012 to become the largest consultancy in Europe. We completely dominate the market in Europe,” says Black.

HDH’s travel retail business works with both airports and brands and primarily operates under three arms.

New York JFK Terminal 4
Harper Dennis Hobbs was appointed as commercial advisors to Saveria USA (now Paradies-Lagardère) in 2014 and worked on various U.S. airport projects, including JFK Terminal 4.
The project included: Providing in-depth review of retail and F&B market trends; and using market trends and existing performance data to develop a merchandise plan for the airside retail space. It also evaluated and benchmarked commercial performance to optimize the category space, retail and F&B mix and layout, developed category and leasing strategies and provided guidance on commercial negotiations and leasing models, among other activities. HDH played a key part in transforming the retail offer airside at JFK into a widely recognized and praised commercial offer.

Brand advisory
The HDH advisory service works with some of the world’s best retailers, brands and F&B concepts, says Black.

“We advise them on developing their travel retail strategies –from where to open a store, the size, the look, the venue –and help them execute the plan,” he says.

“For example, we have been working with Rituals for the past six years, helping it grow into one of the largest brands in travel retail.

“We work with about 40 different brands in travel retail. We advise them with their strategy and we help them expand in all channels from airports to cruise ships, to train stations to airlines. This represents about 40% of our business,” he explains.

Denver Airport – 2018
HDH was appointed by the Great Hall Partners as the commercial advisors on the re-development of the Great Hall Main Terminal at Denver International Airport, where the group conducted studies, led workshops, analyzed commercial and category space and performance, and developed category and highly regarded project leasing strategies and RFP documents, among other activities.

Wholesale distribution
In September 2020, HDH diversified and launched a new wholesale distribution service to bring new brands into the travel retail and duty free channel.

“Although a new division, it made perfect sense because most of the brands that we work with on the retail side we were also advising on their wholesale businesses,” explained Black. “HDH took the decision to grow and invest in this division a year later—even as many companies were cutting back in the fallout from the pandemic,” he added.

“We are now working with 15 companies and take immense pride in helping these brands expand,” commented International Wholesale Director Jessica McGratty Singer, who oversees this business.

“Our point of difference is about helping brands that are domestically strong and have a really compelling story, especially around sustainability. For us, sustainability must be at the core of their business. That is what the consumers are engaging with them on,” she said.

One very exciting new brand is Speedo swimwear, which HDH will be launching in Cannes. HDH has the exclusive global travel retail distribution for Speedo.

“Speedo is such a huge global brand and it is not present in travel retail whatsoever, so that is quite an amazing coup for us,” noted Black.

Another winning brand is Diamonti Per Tutti, a range of jewelry made with real diamonds from Antworp, offered at very accessible prices.

“With an average price point of $150, the Diamonti Per Tutti jewelry is really growing on the cruise ships in the U.S.,” says McGratty-Singer. “We have been working with Starboard and next month will be launching on 14 Celebrity Cruise ships. With are also working with Harding and Heinemann in America, and the jewelry will be on some 30 ships in total.”

As of September 1, HDH also added, high end pro-leisure travel clothing brand Anatomie to the portfolio. The Miami and Palm Beach-based brand also recently opened a store in Venice. Travel Retail is part of its growth strategy.

HDH’s wholesale catalog also includes several special niche beauty brands and two unique Food & Beverage concepts: PDT (Please Don’t Tell), the award-winning “secret bar and speak-easy” that hosts pop-ups all over the world in addition to its famed cocktail bars in NYC and Hong Kong; and London’s EL & N (Eat, Live & Nourish), billed as “the most instagrammable café in the world.”

Both concepts will be launching in travel retail through HDH.

Airport Consultancy
HDH’s third Travel Retail activity is its airport consultancy division.

“This is an incredibly important business for us,” says Black. “We work with international airports across the world and help them shape and create their new commercial strategies. Our teams collectively have helped develop Master Plans for Heathrow, Gatwick, and Copenhagen Airports, and Denver and New York’s JFK Terminal 4 in the U.S. We are currently working with Budapest. We have worked with about 25 airports in the last few years, helping them develop their commercial strategies.”

Creating the right vision
“We are incredibly passionate about trying to drive change in this market,” he continues.

“We help the airport plan and create a commercial vision. This commercial vision has to be based around its peers and its business. What do you want your airport retail and F&B experience to stand for? This entails determining the right values for this airport and how will it work for their passengers. Too many airports still do not understand their customers, and this is where we really start: the customer has to be at the center for any great commercial plan. Our strategy is built around that.”

Black stresses that Harper Dennis Hobbs has its finger on the pulse of what is really happening in the retail market: what is happening on the macro level, what the consumer changes are and what trends are going to shape retail for the next 5-10 years.

“Factoring all this together with looking at the customer, we help the airport create really compelling strategies. And then we can create a Master Plan that determines how much space you need to allocate to retail, F&B, duty free, and other services. After that, we create an implementation plan to accomplish that strategy.”

Working in the market with retail brands, HDH understands the markets in depth.

“We are really very, very unique. There is no one else like us in Europe; no one else that offers the breadth and depth of expertise that we have. Now we are passionate about taking our great international expertise to the North American markets to help shape and create great new commercial experiences here,” he said.

Over the last five years, HDH has been active in the U.S., but on a small scale. But now, being owned by a U.S. giant, Black says that HDH is ready to replicate what it does in Europe in North America.

“This is a very exciting time, as U.S. airports are thinking about change, and want to improve the travel experience in their facility. There are some great projects taking place.

“Nadine has come onboard to lead this journey and I know she will do a great job building our business there. Our goal is to build it into the best airport consultancy in North America,” Black concluded.

Nadine Heubel: Being Visionary to transform a market

In her new position as Senior Managing Director at Harper Dennis

Nadine Heubel, HDH Senior Managing Director

Hobbs, Nadine Heubel will head up the travel retail operations in North America and be responsible for leading and advancing the HDH Travel Retail Team’s North America business.

Heubel has experience with both the European and North American travel retail markets. Starting her career at Hugo Boss, she rose to the position of Global Head of Travel Retail, before her most recent position as CEO of Heinemann Americas, Inc., the U.S.-based subsidiary of international duty free leader, Gebr. Heinemann.

Speaking to TMI about her new role, Heubel stresses the importance of
relationships and understanding both the markets and the potential of new concepts.

“I am only in day 45 [Ed. Note: when we spoke in early September] of my role at Harper Dennis Hobbs so my first steps are about building relationships with the team in Europe, and understanding the brand portfolio in Europe, to determine which brands would make sense to bring over to the U.S.

“I am also talking to our parent company, Newmark, with whom we have a great relationship. As our parent shareholders, they have given us great support and access to a very global, international platform.

“We need to be visionary to get brands that are not in Travel Retail yet but are very iconic and with whom we have a great relationship,” she noted.
“I am also super excited to work in Food and Beverage. I have never worked in Food and Beverage before and we represent some amazing concepts. It excites me to see how we can bring these innovations into airports and also into the cruise channel.

“I am also working to understand which airports, or cruise lines, might need our support from a consultancy perspective. So the first things I am doing is explore and understand and build a strategy.”

Heubel and Black say a key goal involves ramping up and expanding HDH’s airport consultancy business. Black says that HDH is the largest at what it does in Europe, and wants to do the same in the U.S.

Heubel continues: “We want to work with the great airports in the U.S. to help them develop their commercial operations, improve them, and transform them.

“It is a great moment to do this because of the passage of the infrastructure bill by the Biden administration, which will pump millions and millions of dollars into improving airports and the customer experience at airports.

“We feel that there will be a lot of new projects in the next few years. HDH’s forward thinking model and approach is exactly what the U.S. and North American airports are looking for. These airports are looking to Europe, looking to Asia, and at the same time also looking to Newmark, our parent, which already has many great relationships with U.S. brands, to get inspiration. We can absolutely provide that international thinking and help them transform their airport positions. I think this is really a great moment in time.”

Black adds a final observation:

“Where airports see a ‘captive’ audience going through the airport, we see an ‘amazing’ audience going through the airport—an amazing customer base, an amazing consumer that numbers to tens and tens of millions per annum. In this day and age when we are all incredibly time-poor, there isn’t really an excuse to have an audience like that going through your asset, and not put a great compelling retail proposition in front of them. Harper Dennis Hobbs wants to help them create those amazing experiences.”