How many people do you know – hopefully not yourself – who have successfully run the gauntlet of obstacles on the way to an airport departure gate, only to discover they left a crucial piece of equipment – such as a cellphone charger or a camera – at home? Have you ever had a flight delayed and wondered how you would pass the time?

Answering these needs are the three retail brands of Project Horizon Inc. – InMotion Entertainment, SoundBalance and Headphone Hub. Since its first two airport stores opened in 1999 renting DVDs and players, InMotion Entertainment has changed with the evolving industry into an airport-only consumer electronics store that still rents DVDs and players. Rentals generate only a small amount of revenue, but they serve an important purpose.

“That rental portion really helps sustain that loyal membership that has been with us since the beginning,” points out Eden Goldberg, vice president of marketing and business development.

Approximately 88 million people with family incomes of more than $100,000 pass by Project Horizon’s stores in airport terminals annually. To capture that “captive” audience, the company’s salespeople engage customers with product demonstrations and serves their crucial needs with name brands and product expertise.

“We won’t carry lesser-known brands just for the sake of earning more margin,” Project Horizon President Jeremy Smith stresses. “We try to have a nice blend between the name product and the margin. Brands give you instant credibility with your product line, and customers don’t have to say, ‘Who’s that?’”

Flagship Brand

Owning 75 locations at 33 airports nationwide, InMotion Entertainment is Project Horizon’s flagship brand. Because the consumer electronics industry evolves so quickly, new products are introduced constantly. It has three store formats: in-line stores, manned “kiosks” resembling trade show booths and manned wall units that can be installed on an airport terminal’s wall in as many 2- to 4-foot-wide sections as the location allows.

In-line stores range in size from 120 square feet to nearly 2,000 square feet with a sweet spot at 750 square feet. Kiosks range in size from 18 square feet to nearly 500 square feet with an average of approximately 250 square feet.

Project Horizon does not use vending machines to sell its brand-name consumer electronics because the hallmark of the company is its customer service. “When you’re trying to sell a consumer on a $500 or $1,300 headphone, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about,” Smith emphasizes.

New Concepts

Project Horizon’s other brands have been developed in response to specific needs. “SoundBalance has slightly more of a Zen feel as far as the store layout,” Goldberg explains. “We also offer a select number of products that have greener alternative solutions, such as solar-powered chargers and recycled plastic cases for your smart phone.” This year, SoundBalance will open its ninth store, which will be located at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

With headphones as the No. 1 seller at InMotion Entertainment, Project Horizon recently developed its Headphone Hub brand in two new retail locations in response to that demand. The second most popular seller is cellphone recharging cables.

Selecting New Products

The company’s buying team and product specialists put new products through a thorough and complete evaluation process. Regional managers who are in close contact with the field also are consulted. Smith maintains competitors to Project Horizon are smaller companies with fewer locations, the largest being approximately half Project Horizon’s size.

Project Horizon’s retail brands rely extensively on in-store consumer experiences and product demonstrations, so salespeople are recruited with a particular set of skills. “We have a pretty extensive qualifying list and interview process,” Smith notes. “We want a person who can exhibit a certain amount of people skills – they like meeting and greeting people and enjoy talking with people – and we also try to determine if they’ve got a thirst for knowledge and would readily share that knowledge with a potential customer. Then we give them not only online training modules when they start, but as they continue with their tenure at Project Horizon, we also give them ongoing and on-the-ground training before we give them a shift to themselves.”

That training results in returns on the company’s investment in those employees, Smith declares. But for the inevitable product returns, the company has a no-questions-asked policy.

Project Horizon is bound for expansion. In 2013, the company has 10 stores in development for the InMotion Entertainment brand, another five stores in development for SoundBalance, and several bids out for additional locations.

Headphone Hub has been very well-received and is in discussions for additional stores. Project Horizon is also a key launch partner for a number of exclusive products or first-to-market products, demonstrating that its roots are deep and its possibilities are as high as the skies.