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Inside Video & Audio Center’s New Bleeding-Edge Super Store

An answer to the question 'Is brick-and-mortar still valuable?'

Watch: How Video & Audio Center Is Embracing AR 

Tom Campbell, Video & Audio Center’s corporate director, spoke with TWICE about the retailer’s new location. VAC is embracing augmented reality in a big way.

Updated! How can a CE-centric brick-and-mortar retailer compete in an e-commerce world?

How about in a high-end mall a few doors away from a flagship Apple Store, and an Amazon Bookstore right down the hallway with its full range of voice-control products in the window? Oh, and add a Microsoft Store and Tesla showroom also down the hall.

One answer was proffered last week at the grand opening of Video & Audio Center’s (VAC) latest super store. VAC’s fifth showroom is in the Westfield Century City Mall, in the heart of Los Angeles’ upscale, studio-close, Westside neighborhood. The new “technology showcase” is the result of a $1.5 billion mall expansion program and VAC’s investment in building a new location from the ground up.

Building on its existing video, audio and custom installation business, the new location adds appliances and an even stronger focus on total smart-home integration. Indeed, Joseph Akhtarzad, VAC’s co-president and co-founder (with his brother Mayer) explained, “This is a technology store, not a consumer electronics store.” The store’s mission “is to show technology for the home universe because consumers want to see, feel and touch before buying.”

The new store’s layout is designed to be “vertical, as well as horizontal,” according to Tom Campbell, VAC corporate director, in line with the goal to be a hybrid of marketing and retail. Unique among its neighbors in the mall, there is no glass frontage, but rather an air-curtain that is meant to create a more open feeling. Branded demo areas are off to the sides, with headphones and a wide range of connected, voice-controlled speakers on display through the middle. The layout leads to a unique two-story “wedding cake” display of LG sets toward the rear of the store.

LG and Samsung kitchen and laundry appliances are connected to demonstrate their total smart-home capabilities, along with display areas for related products such as Dyson, Crestron, Control4, Nest and more. Akhtazard is not worried about the impact of DIY, saying that “The idea of the store is not so much to sell, as it is to back up what we do.”

“Our customer doesn’t have time,” he continued, “so we teach rather than talk technology, emphasize features and benefits, and then we can talk about specific customer needs.”

According to Campbell, the store’s design and product mix is determined and selected with the input of monthly focus group sessions. The result, he told TWICE, is a store that “is our answer to online and an e-commerce environment.”

“This store is IP,” Campbell said, and VAC intends to file for copyright protection on the design.

Along with the new, Galaxy Tab-equipped store staff, a second warehouse has been opened to allow for same-day delivery throughout the L.A. market area, creating more than 200 new jobs. And along with the store itself, there is a branded concierge desk and demo area in front, well within sight of the Apple location. Staff there will extend the personal connection to shoppers even before they enter the store.

As witness to the chain’s success, the opening was attended by Mike Fasulo, president and COO of Sony Electronics, who recognized a 36-year relationship with VAC. Also representing major suppliers were Rick Calacci of LG and Samsung’s George Madrigal. Given the chain’s continued sale of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, as well as players, along with the new store’s studio-close location (the site of the mall and adjacent offices and hotels was once part of the 20th Century Fox studio backlot), also in attendance was Mike Dunn, president of product strategy and consumer business development for 20th Century Fox, along with executives from Warner, Universal and other studios.

The total presentation of the store design, marketing approach, and forward-looking management outlook embodied in the new Video & Audio Center location does a great job of showing that properly and thoughtfully presented, independent retail remains a very viable business.

Postscript: In the days following the store opening, corporate director Campbell said he was astounded by the high incidence of big-ticket impulse buys. Some of the customers came in planning a modest purchase, like the couple that wanted a spare 40-inch TV and wound up spending $28,000 on two Sony OLEDs, a Samsung “The Frame” TV, and assorted audio equipment. Others wandered in out of curiosity. Either way, the unplanned purchases validate the showroom’s experiential approach, Campbell said.