By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
In a major shift from past practices, Micro Center will add at least three new stores this year in addition to its just-opened Patterson, N.J., location and is eyeing former CompUSA stores.
Micro Center is looking to pick up as many as 10 former CompUSAs, said Kevin Jones, the chain's merchandising VP, at RetailVision last Tuesday.
The former CompUSA locations were shut down just last month. The first will open next month in Rockville Pike, Md. Micro Center has signed letters of intent to occupy two shuttered CompUSA stores, and it is looking at seven more. Jones would not give specifics on the upcoming locations, but he said not to be surprised if more were opened by the fall.
Prior to this announcement, the chain had opened 20 stores since it was founded in 1982, including the New Jersey store.
In another break from the past, the new Maryland location will not undergo a major renovation. Instead Micro Center will open it "as is" Jones said. This is being done to maintain the stores customer base currently associated.
"We will overlay the CompUSA stores with our products for the time being and then refurbish them to match the layout of the new New Jersey store," he said.
This will not be an easy task as the CompUSA stores physical plant differs greatly from the established Micro Center locations, Jones said.
Following the company's traditional slow and steady approach to growth, Micro Center held the soft opening for its New Jersey store on April 16. This location was announced at last year's Spring RetailVision. The grand opening will be held April 25.
This location will incorporate several innovations new to the Micro Center chain. As announced last year the store will have a specific planogram, which also will roll out to the other stores. Jones said the new system will be tough to get used to, but it is necessary if Micro Center is to grow to the next level.
The new store has a large CE component with a large flat-panel TV display holding about 90 products and a sound room.
On the computer side there is an integrated Apple area, a service section called the Knowledge Bar and, Jones joked, the company even bowed to the inevitable and added candy and soda. Although even here it has a PC component, he said — the high-energy drinks and sugar can help the store's hard-core gamers and programmers stay up all night.
Jones is hoping the stores look and feel will help it create an environment where people will hang out, much like an Apple Store.
"We want to create an Apple-like community for the PC crowd," he said.
Many of these changes will be incorporated into existing Micro Center stores, Jones said, although the company will, as usual, take its time and see what is succeeding in New Jersey before it reverse engineers its older stores.
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