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Three Carriers Expanding Retail Presence

New York — Wireless carriers expanded their retail presence in recent days with the opening of T-Mobile’s 1,000th owned-and-operated retail store, the announcement by RadioShack that it will open Sprint-branded kiosks in about 500 shopping malls over the next three years, and Verizon Wireless’ return to Best Buy after an absence of about three years.

The RadioShack-Sprint agreement was announced following a 10-month test program of 10 kiosks in malls across the country, RadioShack said. “The Sprint kiosk test proves we can reach additional customers with minimal cannibalization to our existing wireless business,” said chairman/CEO Len Roberts, whose chain opened Sprint stores-within-a-store when Sprint’s network launched in 1996. The kiosks will also sell Virgin Mobile’s prepaid service. Virgin is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that buys Sprint airtime on a wholesale basis and markets it and Virgin-branded phones to the youth market. The kiosks will also sell a limited amount of non-Sprint-branded accessories.

RadioShack will develop and maintain the mall kiosks, hire and train sales personnel and take care of all day-to-day operations, the retailer said. Sprint will pay the rent for the sites.

The kiosks will be placed in the highest volume malls in the country, and the first 90 will open by spring 2005 in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Texas.

The kiosk venture is part of RadioShack’s new retail services division, designed to open the door “for us to partner with a multitude of companies who want a retail presence in consumer electronics or who can benefit from our areas of expertise,” Roberts said. The division leverages the chain’s distribution, training, field management, repair services and sourcing. (See TWICE, Sept. 20, p. 1.) “We look forward to developing other profitable turnkey ventures for our retail services division with both our current and new strategic partners, including other retailers who are currently seeking to leverage RadioShack’s unique infrastructure and know-how.”

As part of that initiative, RadioShack opened a wireless repair center this year to test, refurbish and repair handsets for third parties. In 2005, the chain will expand its repair facility to serve more customers and repair other types of consumer electronics products.

Days before the RadioShack announcement, T-Mobile opened its 1,000th owned-and-operated T-Mobile-branded store, having opened 187 retail stores under its own name since January, or almost one new retail store every other day this year, T-Mobile said. The carrier declined to reveal its targeted year-end store count.

T-Mobile did say, however, that it continues to grow both its direct and indirect store channels. “Our best value proposition has meant that we are one of the fastest growing carriers in the U.S.,” said a spokesman. “We are growing our channels to keep up with demand — that means a mix of retail and indirect.”

The 1,000th store opened on Market Street in San Francisco. It’s described by the carrier as one of its largest U.S. retail locations.

For its part, Verizon joined carriers Sprint, Cingular and AT&T Wireless on Best Buy’s sales floors after leaving about three years ago. Verizon is not replacing an existing carrier in Best Buy’s portfolio, the retailer said. Each store, however, offers only three of the four carriers, depending on market and availability.