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Legacy Spotlight: Frederic Estes

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

By Michael Dunphy, Ten Thirty Media

This series aims to capture a moment in time, talking to airport concessionaires about how their lives and businesses are being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Frederic Estes doesn’t just count his blessings, he embraces them. As owner and president of Estes Enterprises, Inc., he can point to many in his family’s long career in business, which started with a funeral home in Des Moines Iowa in 1939.

“I was blessed to have grown up in a family of entrepreneurs,” he told the Airport Experience News Podcast (AENP) in November 2019, and that training—passed down generation to generation—has served his family and businesses well, including hospitality services at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport and Tampa International Airport. Altogether, the Estes family operates 16 convenience, specialty retail, and tech stores—all of which are now under threat in the current pandemic.

The family taught Estes well, and he grew up working in the family business. “It was a very humbling and wonderful experience,” he explains. “My parents taught us the importance of hard work, dedication, and commitment. I learned so much as my parents had me work every position starting as warehouse stocker, which helped prepare me for where I am now.”

It also taught him to be scrappy and inventive when necessary, and he points to the early days of his business when he had to overcome the major problem of lacking suppliers and vendors to stock his shops. “Every Monday morning, I would go to one of the large stores, whether Sam’s Club or Costco, pick up all the product, and drive it out to the airport to deliver it myself—every Monday for probably the first three years,” he told AENP. “As a small operator, you do what you have to do.”

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, as it wreaks havoc on the travel industry, especially small, minority- and women-owned businesses, Estes is continuing to do what he has to do to survive. This included making the very painful decision to furloughing 98 percent of his staff. “It is an incredibly stressful time, and we are doing everything possible to stay afloat until travelers come back.”

But there simply may not be enough notches on the belt to tighten, and without the support of the federal government and airports, Estes’ businesses may not survive. Like so many other airport concessionaires, he appeals for a stimulus relief package that does not trickle down but injects direct aid.

“We need financial help now from Congress and the airports,” Estes emphasizes. “In addition, the ACDBE [Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise] operators and program needs to be preserved at all costs. It would absolutely be a tragedy for small ACDBE operators to be lost.”

The airports themselves can also help, by working with the concessionaires to help them cover rents and fees. “We will not be able to pay those rents and fees for the foreseeable future, so a plan will need to be implemented to ensure that all concessionaires are able to come back when our airports re-open.”

It’s also in their best interest to do so, Estes believes. “They will need us when the traveling public returns,” he points out. “ACDBE and large concessionaires are the ones that bring amazing experiences to the millions of travelers every day. Without us the experience will never be the same.”

Federal support would allow Estes to achieve one more goal—to pass on the blessings to not only the next generation of his family but small, minority and women-owned businesses everywhere, as he told AENP: “I believe in giving back,” he explains. “There’s always somebody who helped you along the way—whether it’s a mentor, coach, teacher, somebody in the industry—that opened a door for you or gave you some useful advice, “We want to share those blessings with others.”

About the Author

Michael Dunphy, Managing Editor of Fly Washington, Air Chicago and LAX magazines / Instructor at Gotham Writers Workshop

View Michael Dunphy's LinkedIn here.

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