PLAINVIEW, N.Y. -The Wiz opened its 42nd store in the New York metropolitan area last week, a 25,000-square-foot unit here, with traditional brass bands, local officials attending the ribbon cutting ceremony and the hearty backing of its corporate owner-cable and sports franchise giant Cablevision Systems Corp.
In comments during the ribbon cutting ceremonies, Jim Dolan, president/CEO of Cablevision Systems, gave the chain firm backing, a quiet rebuke to those who continue to wonder about the future of the local chain as part of his company. Cablevision, which owns Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, also owns the New York Knicks, Rangers and Liberty sports franchises, their cable programming rights, as well as cable rights to the New York Yankees and Mets.
"Since we purchased The Wiz in 1998, it has been a showplace for our properties and technologies. With the convergence of technology we need this operation and our customers need it. Selling self-install cable modems now.we will see a new level of technology sold by The Wiz in the next five years. This Wiz store is here to stay, and [the chain] will be here a long time," Dolan said.
Selling high-speed cable modems through the Optimum online area in each Wiz store is the key to the convergence trend Cablevision wants to capitalize on. Norman Goldberg, chief operating officer of The Wiz, added that the chain will be selling its specially designed digital cable boxes from Sony for Cablevision customers in a limited test on Long Island during December and January. The major rollout will begin by June 2001.
Goldberg, the long-time chief operating officer of Fortunoff's, joined The Wiz in July and detailed specific plans that show The Wiz is not going to disappear from the New York market anytime soon.
First off, the new store features a new design which "showcases the synergies between The Wiz and Cablevision." The focal point, at the rear of the store, is a 20-foot-wide by 7½-foot-high video wall that features programming from the entertainment properties of Cablevision.
Along with the Cablevision customer service counter, where customers can also sign up for Optimum Online cable modem services, the store features The Wiz Kids Corner. That area of the store features electronics, music and video software for children under 12 years old.
Here is part of Goldberg's master plan for The Wiz:
Begin remodels of existing Wiz locations to feature the new design. Concerning existing smaller locations, especially in New York City, Goldberg said, "We will try to work on those locations. If some don't work we will relocate those stores."
The Wiz plans to open two new stores in New Jersey next year, in Manaplan and East Brunswick. "We will also go to Westchester County and Connecticut in 2002 and have begun to look at sites. We will expand to those areas with heavy Cablevision coverage," he said.
Cablevision's recent third-quarter report showed that The Wiz had sales of $171 million, an increase of 25 percent, but a loss of $18 million. Losses have nagged the retailer ever since its acquisition by Cablevision in early 1998, but by all accounts it is in far better financial shape than it was when it was purchased. Still, the rumor mill has been rife with reports of its demise, especially with the entry into New York of Circuit City and Best Buy during that time. Goldberg acknowledged the problem and provided some explanation.
"A new computer system was installed just about two years ago and it is terrible. From the retail floor to the warehouse, it has hurt us right down the line." A new system will be installed by the end of the year, Goldberg said. In addition during the most recent quarter there were higher expenses, such as improved employee benefits for Cablevision overall and higher commissions, which hurt the retailer.
As for the two national competitors The Wiz is facing now, Goldberg is upbeat. "We have not been affected by the Best Buy entry. In those areas where we are facing them, store for store we are doing very well. There has been no measurable [negative] effect against Circuit City either."
When asked about the bad reputation Wiz personnel have had in dealing with consumers over the years, Goldberg said, "We have had to change the attitude of our employees and get them involved in more training, so they will be more congenial and professional."
Since Goldberg is coming into CE retailing with a fresh look, one notices a breath of fresh air in his observations and approach. For instance, he noted that The Wiz will try to get more women to shop and work at the chain. "Coming into this business it seems as if it is the car business of 20 or 30 years ago. You know, men pick the car and women pick the color. This industry is in the Dark Ages about that. Women know as much about consumer electronics as men. We want to focus more on the needs of women customers and hire more women."