I was browsing the Hudson News shop in LaGuardia's Terminal C when it caught my eye. It had the best shelf location that money could buy — eye-level, cheek to cheek with Seventeen magazine ("Sex Survey Results!"). It was . . . the periodic table of elements.
The periodic table — not your typical airport periodical. Need the atomic number of Argon (Ar)? That would be 18. Plutonium (Pu) is, of course, 94. They're all here, thoughfully laminated and satchel-sized, on the $4.95 Quick Study Periodic Table of the Elements.
But why the heck is this here at all? Well, "Hudson News in the airports is a natural for us," says Daniel Sillence, sales manager for national accounts at BarCharts Inc., the Boca Raton, Florida, company that publishes 250 different guides. "What we have is an impulse buy. You go in, you look at all the things they have, and bingo! There I am." Specifically, there the periodic table is; it's among BarCharts' top-20 sellers nationwide.
The guides to anatomy (a top-5 seller nationally), algebra, and Spanish vocabulary, says Sillence, "sell any place you put them." About half of Hudson News' 250 outlets are taking selections of 12 or 24 Quick Study titles. Sillence admits retailers often express skepticism. "But if you put in a single display, or a test in 10 stores, the activity brings 'em right back to the table." True enough, says Hudson News senior vice president of sales and marketing Hope Remoundos. "The original selections were not anything I thought would sell," she says. "Algebra, Spanish, How to Make a Cocktail. But the stuff flew off the shelves. I could not believe it."
"It's this simple," says Sillence. "If people stop and take a look, they'll find something that relates to their life, something their kids are doing, or their wife. And it's a nice price point." And who knows when a key business disagreement might turn on the relative abundance of elements in the earth's crust?
A version of this article appeared in the October 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.