Digital Storefronts Drum Up Support for Airports

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

When Haley Abbas is tooling around Grand Rapids, MI, she finds it extremely gratifying to see people, young and old, wearing hats, sweatshirts and other swag celebrating the 60th anniversary of Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR). 

As marketing and communications manager with the Airport Authority, Abbas has been living and breathing the anniversary celebration every single day since last year. To help the community at large feel more involved and engaged, she and her team launched a digital storefront that sells merchandise commemorating the big occasion.

Shoppers can access the online offerings through a banner on the main page of the airport website, on social media platforms or via Shopify’s link at The all-digital initiative went live in April 2023 and logged more than $15,000 in gross sales in the first five months.


Project: Online Sale of Airport-branded Merchandise

Location: Gerald R. Ford Int’l Airport

Focus: Apparel & gift items commemorating airport’s 60th anniversary

Vendors: Printify for products & logo application; Shopify for sales transactions

Sales: $15,000 from April-Aug. 2023

Project: Online Sale of Airport-branded Merchandise

Location: Akron-Canton Airport

Merchandise: Limited collection of gender-neutral items such as hats, key chains, socks, tote bags, etc.

New in 2024: Honey products harvested from airport’s own apiary

Format: Customers shop on airport website, inventory is housed in the marketing office, airport employees fulfill/ship orders

Avg. Order: $41

Knowing that GRR’s banner anniversary was coming up in 2023, Abbas and her team started brainstorming merchandise and selling options with the airport’s marketing agency in summer 2022. After developing some designs, the team assessed a few dozen different product samples.

“We wanted to make sure we were putting out high-end products that people would actually want to buy,” Abbas explains. “We didn’t want it to feel too corporate. We wanted it to feel fun and engaging—something that our partners and community members would want to wear all around.”

Embroidered baseball caps sell for $25, screen printed tee shirts for about $26 and canvas tote bags for $13. Almost all of the items feature GRR’s anniversary logo—a white plane silhouette inside a white circle that forms a modified peace sign; and many feature the slogan “Good travel vibes since ’63” or Peace, Love, and Progress.”

The project team chose Printify and Shopify to help execute its e-commerce pop-up. Printify procures products from several manufacturers around the United States and applies GRR’s custom graphics; Shopify provides the point-of-sale services. 

“Using those two kinds of platforms, we were able to build out our digital storefront,” Abbas says. “Shopify is the really nice-looking front end that the customers are engaging with, and Printify is on the back end where we design all of the products and set them up to go live on the storefront.”

Based on the abundance of blue anniversary logo shirts she sees circulating around the community, Abbas feels like the merchandise is hitting its mark. In addition to the original 60th anniversary collection of GRR-branded goods, the online catalog expanded to include a summer collection. Another soon-to-be-announced theme collection is due out later this year.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but there will be a lot of options for our customers,” says GRR Communications and Events Associate Heidi Groenboom.

Socks and Sweets

Proving that you don’t need to be a large hub or have a special occasion to jump into digital retail, Akron-Canton Airport (CAK) in Ohio has been selling a rotating array of airport-branded items since 2019. A “shop” link in the upper righthand corner of the airport website, right next to the “contact us” link, directs customers to its merchandise.

To keep things simple and cost-effective, CAK sells a limited number of gender-neutral items such as hats, keychains and a toiletry bag filled with a water bottle, luggage tag, pen, etc. Interestingly, patterned dress socks (sold for $18 per pair or a three-pack for $47) are particular customer favorites. Airplane graphics and the airport’s three-letter identifier figure prominently. 

Overall, the airport has offered 35 different items since it “opened” its online store.

The airport rotates items based on the season, such as beach towels in the summer and hoodies in the winter. This year, ahead of Cyber Monday, CAK will be offer a branded beanie.

Lisa Dalpiaz, the airport’s vice president of Air Service and Business Development, notes that online buyers run the gamut from “local folks to aviation geeks.”

Year after year, the digital storefront predictably encounters an uptick in sales just before Christmas and other gift-giving holidays. Despite these surges, it has remained manageable for CAK to maintain inventory at the airport and fulfill orders in-house.

Dalpiaz and her team looked into other options, but they all added expenses that would increase product costs for customers. To keep prices low, CAK basically charges the actual cost of products plus uninflated shipping expenses.

“We are not looking to make money off of this,” she emphasizes. “We just want to get the name out there, and we want people to have access to our products outside of our event giveaways.”

When a customer makes a purchase from the online store, airport staff receive an email alert and a designated employee retrieves the merchandise from the marketing office and ships it to the customer.

The average online order totals $41, and a busy day can include more than a dozen separate purchases. The site logged more than 50 sales during a Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotion launched on social media in 2019. That’s when Dalpiaz knew the online retail initiative was worth continuing.

Next year, the digital storefront will begin offering a sweet new option: honey produced right at the airport. “We have recently launched an apiary here that is just thriving,” Dalpiaz explains. “With the wild flowers and the clove and the habitat we have for them, the bees are producing honey ahead of schedule.”

The plan is to use proceeds from online sales of honey products to offset costs of the not-for-profit apiary. Currently, CAK has 76 colonies of bees on its 2,400 acres of land. 

“It is definitely a passion project for our environmental services team, so whatever funds are generated from digital sales will go back into facilitating the beekeeping and making sure that their suits and equipment are as top-notch as possible,” Dalpiaz explains.

Like the embroidered hats and socks, jars of honey and individually portioned honey sticks will provide CAK more opportunities to market itself.


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