In January, SkyMall LLC and its parent company, Xhibit Corp., filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with some $50 million in liabilities. The company’s assets were set to go up for auction in late March. The news led to a strong show of support for the in-flight catalog.
On Friday, a company called C&A Marketing bought SkyMall, with a winning bid of $1.9 million. The company’s leadership already is hinting that they’ll bring back the SkyMall catalog. NPR spoke with Chiam Pikarski, executive vice president of C&A, for details about the catalog’s return.
Our questions and his responses have been slightly edited for clarity.
The sale of SkyMall happened Friday? Is it all done?
Pikarski: The court approved the sale to us as the winning bidder [Friday], and then we have a few days to actually close the transaction, which we expect to do. We should have done it yesterday, but it looks like it will happen tomorrow. … The deal is essentially done.
There have been a few articles saying that you might bring back SkyMall. Is that to be believed?
Everybody’s saying “bring back my SkyMall!” — sort of an outcry. And it’s something that we will definitely take a very close look at. We would start by reengaging our conversations with the airlines, get their understanding of what it is they liked in the SkyMall catalog, what did work for them. Then we can align that with what didn’t work for SkyMall, and see if there is an opportunity to bring it back in one form or another. To bring back something in print, and physically to the airlines … there will be some kind of catalog in one format or the other, whether it’s in the airline seat, whether it’s exclusive for regular customers in the mail, or some combination of that.
Name some things that weren’t working with SkyMall.
I only know what I’ve read; I haven’t engaged the airlines directly myself. There are two things that happened: First of all, SkyMall fell behind in paying their bills for placing those catalogs because they had financial difficulties and because they were losing money on the catalog. The other thing is, I think the catalog got a bit stale, and had to compete with the Wi-Fi capabilities and other inflight entertainments, and I believe the marketing departments at the airlines believed that SkyMall wasn’t that important anymore.
The combination of those two made it go away. … After a few months of the absence of SkyMall, I think that some of the airlines might come to realize how much the traveler is expecting to have that SkyMall catalog, regardless of everything else that’s competing. We’re going to reengage the airlines to see how important it is to the traveler and to the experience the traveler has.
What makes SkyMall stand out, and what makes people love SkyMall is the absurdity of some of the products in the catalogs; people really wanting to see SkyMall to look at things they most likely will never ever buy. But that does not seem to be serving the bottom line. How will the product lineup change? Does it need to?
There is always going to be a part of the iconic SkyMall. Whatever we do with SkyMall, we’ll always make sure we have some sort of Big Foot in there. I look at that as part of the content — editorial almost, not part of the product offering. You open it and expect to see it in the format of a catalog, but you’re really reading it for entertainment purposes. SkyMall will always look for that.
But I think what also made SkyMall is, they had gimmicky, interesting products that actually solved real day-to-day problems in a sort of quirky, gimmicky way, but in a real way. Whether its the inflatable beds, or the keyboard holder that moved up and down, or storage solutions — they actually solved the problem. And that’s what they did very well, but I think the balance of products wasn’t focused enough on those. That balance needs to be refocused. You need some of the absurd, then you’re gonna have a lot of the gimmicky cute products that actually solve day to day problems, and then the other segments of products are travel-related problems, travel solutions.
How will you incorporate the Internet in the relaunch of SkyMall. Will there be a SkyMall online?
Of course, we’re gonna look to do a mobile app, and perhaps that will be a part of our reengagement with the airlines — to incorporate SkyMall offerings, priority positioning somewhere in the Wi-Fi app or connectivity. But I would not limit it to that. We’re gonna look to expand the exposure to the traveler outside of just the airline seat — airports, kiosks, other websites that are travel-oriented, hotel gift shops, or anywhere else that a traveler can be engaged.
What’s the timeline for the relaunch?
On the actual e-commerce sites, you’re gonna see immediate changes in the next few weeks. We’re rehiring most of the team that runs SkyMall, and quickly will ramp up our product offering. Hopefully by the fourth quarter we’ll have a really robust product offering that is cute, gimmicky, broad, relevant, priced well, engaging — SkyMall, shall we say.
When will the catalogs be back in airplane seatbacks?
I have to talk to the airlines, I haven’t reengaged them yet. Those conversations are going to start in the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how meaningful it was to them and how much they’re mourning the loss of the catalog. It’s not only the airline that has to want it, but it has to make sense for us. The prior model was not feasible; it lost money. They spent more money on printing and placing the catalog than the revenue the catalog actually brought in.
Will things be cheaper?
Not more expensive, but it’s not only about price. People look at a product’s functionality, its branding, what’s the utility of the product, can I show it off, say I brought it on SkyMall? There’s always a perfect balance. Sometimes taking a product and pricing it down to nothing actually dilutes the value.
My message to the traveler is, if you’re mourning the loss of SkyMall, don’t mourn it yet. It may just relaunch, and we may just surprise you.