The pandemic was an unfortunate event for many people, but it also blessed others with life-changing opportunities. Greg Plummer was one of those others.
The airport concession investor and operator took a chance and changed how minority-owned concession business owners are viewed and valued at major U.S airports.
Plummer’s food and beverage career started in his teenage years, and before he knew it, he found his passion in life. He moved from Detroit to Atlanta during his college years and continued to provide food and beverage services to support himself up until 2004. Plummer then moved from Atlanta to L.A. to pursue a career in finance but quickly realized he was miserable and missed his original means of income and life.
In 2005, Plummer resumed his career in food and beverage at LAX, working for CMS Hospitality. He started building relationships throughout the airport as time went on, and he went from working at concessions to owning them.
As the entrepreneur built up his portfolio, many other minority concession owners and investors started to notice, and Plummer saw the opportunity to build something special. He and his partners formed the Concord Collective.
Concord Collective gained its first big win when they acquired eight new concession spaces in LAX terminal one and terminal six, including a few food restaurants and a few beverage stands. Not only was Plummer the co-founder of Concord Collective, but he was also the owner of his own Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Enjoy Repeat, at the time and a London-based airport concession giant started to take notice.
“We originally partnered in late 2017 to bid on business in terminal one at LAX. Companies that put out proposals have to meet the requirements of having an Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) partnership involved with the proposals,” Plummer said. “Since the bid was successful, we were able to start a partnership.”
LAX has made it their priority to create more opportunities for minority-owned and women-owned concessions to open their businesses at the airport.
“Having diverse business owners is critical to creating the world-class experiences that today’s airport customers expect and demand,” said Christopher Adkins, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) director of the Advance Network.
“Understanding the barriers to entry these businesses face, we are working together to bring more minority- and women-owned businesses into the airport. We are inspired by Greg and his team and hope what we are doing here at LAX can become a model for airports across the country.”
The partnership lasted for three years as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many businesses and impacted airports. Many airport concessions closed down, and some airlines went under because of the lack of employees and lack of business, as people were not traveling often.
“As a result of covid and restrictions, a lot of airport restaurants closed down because traffic was down by a considerable amount and for the ones that did travel, they were very uncertain about eating airport food,” Plummer said. “It also highlighted how expensive airport labor is, and showed that concessions are amenities, not a necessity.
“Then some investors were pulling out because they could not see how they were possibly able to get a return on their investment as airport traffic was slowing down,” he added. “The pandemic presented challenges that we had to navigate through.”
While Plummer and the Concord Collective faced difficulties during the pandemic, they also made a monumental deal that will change how minority-owned businesses receive an opportunity in the airport space.
“In 2020, SSP America decided they wanted to focus on other key markets and ultimately divested from LAX,” Plummer said. “Since I was their partner, they approached me and asked if I would want to participate in buying their contract. I was surprised as I did not think they would want to leave, but when they asked me, I saw an opportunity to become something I had never been. I always wanted to be in the operator ownership capacity, so I asked SSP if I could buy their whole portfolio instead of going into a partnership with a third party.”
For the fiscal year ending in Sept. 2020, SSP’s revenue plunged 49 percent, then another 42 percent for the year ending in Sept. 2021, to the equivalent of $1.1 billion. For those two years combined, SSP posted operating losses totaling about $860 million as of Sept. 30 of last year and had racked up nearly $2 billion in debt, all according to an annual company filing, according to LABusinessJournal.
Justin Erbacci, CEO of the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), hopes Plummer can become a model and an encouragement to other small minority-owned businesses.
“At LAWA, we are focused on creating more opportunities for small, local, and disadvantaged businesses,” Erbacci said. “Greg Plummer is a model for how we want to see our ACDBEs build their businesses at LAX and become prime concessioners—and help bring in and mentor more ACDBEs. We want to congratulate Greg on his accomplishments and thank him for choosing to expand at our airport.”
SSP America agreed to sell its LAX portfolio to Plummer in 2020, but it would take a year before everything was finalized. Plummer explained why SSP, LAWA and URW, were in support of him owning such a high-profile portfolio.
“As of recently, there has been a strong push by LAWA and URW to incorporate more opportunities for minority-owned businesses to obtain capital and portfolios,” Plummer said. “With all of them pushing for Concord Collective to be a successful company, that was our kind of secret sauce in securing the deal. The relationship me and my partners have built over the last 17 years, coupled with the deals we have signed prior, and with how prepared we were, it made it easy to receive support and the investments we needed from SSP America, LAWA, and URW to support and trust us with portfolio and lease agreement previously owned by SSP.”
Plummer knows what he has done is an outlier as a minority business has never acquired such an expanded portfolio from a big company before, but he thinks this won’t be the last time it will happen.
“I do think there is an opportunity for more of these types of transactions to happen. As large companies recover from covid and the debt that occurred, many businesses will start to realize the complications that will arise during their recovery which will prompt them to think about divesting and letting a local partner take over their portfolio,” Plummer said. “With many minority-owned businesses being small and more hands-on with their concessions, it will give them a worthy look from larger companies.”
Plummer and the Concord Collective also want to support other minority-owned businesses by putting them under their flagship.
“I think what makes me the proudest of Concord Collective is that we have actively looked for the best minority-owned business to partner with our suppliers,” he said. “I determine my success by the impact I have on encouraging other small businesses, I want to show them that anything is possible.”
Plummer had some advice for people thinking of starting a business.
“I would say that all minority and women-owned businesses need to have a clear vision and have a plan, then from there, be prepared to execute your goal,” he said. “Business owners need to understand that being an entrepreneur is not a part-time job or hobby, it’s a full-time commitment, especially in the start-up phase. You are going to be challenged, but if you love what you are doing or will love the outcome of what you do, then you are on the right path. You have to do good business to last, do not think short term, always think with a long term stake into things.”
The Concord Collective plan is to continue to develop their team, grow as a company and create opportunities for other minority and women-owned businesses so they can stay competitive no matter the size of their competition.