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CompUSA’s A/V Shops Open The Door To Convergence

CompUSA’s 17-unit test of an in-store A/V shop concept that began last spring came to fruition last week when the final wave of Home Entertainment sections was installed.

The shops, which now appear in 183 of the chain’s 227 stores, range in size from 1,600 to 2,000 square feet, and feature plasma display panels, tabletop LCD monitors, PVRs, DVD recorders and portable players, and mid- to high-end audio products from Infinity, JBL, Onkyo and, ultimately, Yamaha. The nine PDPs are priced from $2,999 for a 42W-inch ViewSonic to $10,900 for a 50W-inch Pioneer. Other plasma suppliers include Hitachi, Panasonic and Philips.

CompUSA is expected to carry the store-within-a-store concept to the balance of its locations, mostly in rural areas and single-store markets, as early as next year.

Home electronics division manager Henry Chiarelli — the 31-year RadioShack veteran who’s spearheading the program — called the shops CompUSA’s “first shot in a convergence play.”

“We want to hang our hat on convergence, and have a pretty good lead on it by offering whole lifestyle solutions,” he said.

The Home Entertainment shops are located toward the rear of CompUSA stores, where they form “the perfect segue from computers and monitors” in terms of both adjacencies and cross-merchandising,” Chiarelli said. No SKUs were lost to the retrofits, although the installations provided the opportunity for other improvements in CompUSA’s layout and adjacencies, such as placing printers closer to the digital imaging area.

To support the shops, the Mexican-owned company hired 1,000 dedicated sales staffers and cross-trained a large number of the existing PC sales force. The chain will also hold in-store Home Theater workshops and vendor demo days, in order to leverage its role as a technology authority, and will provide delivery, bench repair and outsourced installation services for the A/V line. The supply chain will be based on CompUSA’s direct-to-store model, with 34 designated hub stores serving as mini-warehouses, which, taken together, are within a four-hour drive of all 227 stores.