The company store grows up
Brand-recognition strategy leads the way
BY CARRIE HOWARD
Becky Gabruk, manager of the Boeing Store in Seattle, has sold hats to Boeing retirees and “Pudgy Plane” stickers to airline pilots. Her customers have included flight crews on layover from nearby Sea-Tac Airport, tourists from across the United States and overseas, and Boeing employees shopping for Christmas presents. But there’s one customer who really stuck in her mind.
“A boy came into the store with his family,” she said. “He was about eight or nine years old. He walked in and looked around, and then stopped in front of me and said, ‘This is the coolest store I’ve ever been in!’”
“You couldn’t ask for a better endorsement that that,” said Fritz Johnston, who directs the Boeing merchandising program. “Kids are one of our target audiences. They’re the future engineers, scientists and pilots of the world.”
Catering to its smallest customers is one way the Boeing Store has changed over the past few years.
Boeing has operated company stores since at least the 1950s. Early stores were little more than convenience shops, offering aspirin, magazines and a small selection of logo souvenirs. There were efforts in the 1970s and again in the early 1990s to bring some consistency to the store programs, but at the time of the Boeing–McDonnell Douglas merger in 1997 most of the gift stores operated independently.
Boeing outsourced all company gift stores to a single vendor a year after the merger, bringing consistency to merchandise design and store operations. Then in 2001 the merchandising program returned to Boeing ownership with a new name and brand: The Boeing Store.
The 15 retail stores and e-commerce site (www.boeingstore.com) are now managed by Boeing Stores Inc., a subsidiary that reports to Communications. The reporting structure aligns the merchandising program with other efforts to strengthen the Boeing brand, including the advertising, brand management and sponsorship programs.
The stores are not just a convenient way for Boeing employees, families and fans to share their enthusiasm for Boeing; they are also good business. Brand management consultants recognize that a strong merchandising program helps to protect company trademarks and expand brand recognition.
Boeing maintains a high degree of control over the merchandising program to ensure that products carrying the Boeing name reflect the quality and innovation for which the company is known. The Boeing Store team of retail and design specialists plans merchandise selections on a seasonal basis, and graphic designers inside the company develop original artwork and decorations for each item.
The team also takes regional interests into consideration when planning merchandise lines. Southern California stores carry a predominance of merchandise featuring space programs, Pacific Northwest stores emphasize commercial aircraft, and St. Louis stores emphasize defense products.
Up to 1,000 different items are offered in each of the Boeing Store retail locations at any time, including custom-designed apparel, jewelry, travel accessories, collectibles, and educational toys and books. For collectors, the Boeing Store offers more than 50 aircraft models, ranging from $15 snap-together kits to handcrafted executive-quality models that run upwards of $400.
Value is important, but it’s only one part of the store’s appeal. “You don’t go into the Boeing Store for a sweatshirt just because it’s a good buy. You go because you’re intrigued by the Boeing brand. People want to own a piece of the legend,” Johnston said.
As the Boeing Store expands its scope beyond “the company store,” the team is reaching out to customers around the world. Boeing launched BoeingStore.com in 1999, and it now carries more than 500 items and provides 24-hour customer service.
The Boeing Store team is identifying opportunities to reach additional customers. “One new line of business we started this summer is selling Boeing merchandise at air shows,” said Mike Wasch, senior manager of Boeing Stores Inc. “We partnered with Jeppesen at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.; we had a spot at Seafair in Seattle; and we had a pavilion at the Chicago Air and Water Show.
“These three shows alone got the Boeing name and Boeing Store merchandise in front of over 2.75 million new potential customers within the space of one month.”
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