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Airport officials continue concessions search

Frank Ross Jr., the owner of the Cinnabon franchise at the Albany Mall, said he’d talked with officials at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport about the possibility of becoming a vendor at the airport’s new terminal building. Carlton Fletcher)

Frank Ross Jr., the owner of the Cinnabon franchise at the Albany Mall, said he’d talked with officials at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport about the possibility of becoming a vendor at the airport’s new terminal building. Carlton Fletcher)

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The owners of two Albany Subway franchises, including the one on Jackson Street downtown, have been approached to gauge their interest in becoming concessions vendors at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. (Carlton Fletcher)

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Frank Ross Jr., owner of Cinnabon franchises in Albany and Columbus, said traffic count is a key factor when considering a franchise location at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. (Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Yvette Aehle’s still settling into the rhythm of her new digs, putting out the proverbial fires that spring up here and there that are typical with a significant move into a new workplace. But the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport director told members of the Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission Monday that finding the right concessions option for the airport’s new terminal building will soon move up significantly on her priority list.

Aehle said she’s reached out casually to a few local food vendors to gauge their interest in setting up shop at the airport but the talks were only informational in nature.

“I wanted to get feedback from a company with name recognition, so I talked with two local Subway franchise owners and with Frank Ross, the owner of the Cinnabon franchise at the Albany Mall,” Aehle told commissioners. “They were interested in talking with me, but their primary concern is the traffic count at the airport. It’s hard for a concessioner to make money without a high volume of potential customers.”

Ross, who with his wife, Sarah, owns Cinnabon franchises in Albany and Columbus, stressed Thursday that his conversation with Aehle is not an indication that a location at the airport is imminent.

“There are a lot of factors involved,” Ross said. “It would require a whole build-out for us to locate at the airport, which would require our corporate office getting involved. The traffic count out there is also a major concern. We’d have to look at the flight schedules and the design (of the new terminal) before we moved forward.

“Cinnabon is synonymous with airports, but we have an image that we work hard to maintain so we’d have to consider all the relevant factors before we did more than talk about a location at the airport.”

Delyn Smith, the former owner with her husband, Richard, of the Jackson Street Subway franchise downtown, said the city’s proposal for a location at the airport that was shown to the Smiths before they sold the business to Tushar Patel would make it tough to make a profit.

“The city wanted a percentage of the sales, and Subway would get a percentage of the sales,” Delyn Smith, who now operates the downtown Subway for Patel, said. “With everyone taking part of the sales, the franchise would probably end up in a hole.

“It would be difficult to do sales projections given the traffic count at the airport, so vendors would have a tough time turning a profit.”

Aviation Commissioner Willie Adams suggested cutting overhead for any franchise willing to operate at the airport.

“We cut costs down to close to nothing for vendors in the past, and they still had a tough time,” Adams said. “Most businesses today can’t handle a lot of additional overhead. I think we should consider offering (a location at the airport) for no rent, just pretty much say, ‘Take it.’”

Even that concession would not be enough to assure a profitable venture, according to Smith.

“Even if there was no rent and very little overhead at the site, you still have to pay someone to stand out there,” she said. “That could potentially cost you more than you’d make. And if the inventory goes bad, I don’t know if you’d do enough sales to make that up.”