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Retail Refrain: ‘Twas The Season For New Storefronts

DANIA BEACH, FLA. -Amid the usual frenzy surrounding the holiday sales period, a slew of CE retailers decided to maximize the seasonal momentum by opening new stores or overhauling old ones.

For some, like Sound Advice and Wards, the new additions were dramatic departures from current store formats or designs. Others-such as Ultimate Electronics, 6th Ave Electronics and Cambridge SoundWorks-used tried-and-true formulas to bring their franchises to new towns and markets.

Perhaps the boldest move was made by Sound Advice, which debuted a new, mall-based concept store the week after Thanksgiving.

Dubbed Electronic Interiors and located in Florida’s ritzy Palm Beach Gardens Mall, the unit was developed as a state-of-the-art showcase for ultra high-end audio, video and home theater technology, with an emphasis on design, integration and custom installation.

“No one comes here to pick up a VCR on the way home from work,” stated Sound Advice chairman/CEO Peter Beshouri.

Indeed, this consumer electronics design center, which incorporates a Bang & Olufsen “store-within-a-store,” also features such top-of-the-line equipment as B & W speakers, Krell electronics and Sony professional data-grade projection systems. Said senior VP Michael Blumberg, “We can build home entertainment systems for our customers ranging from $10,000 to over a million dollars.”

To demonstrate the gear, Electronic Interiors provides various room settings, including a mahogany study with articulating library panels, a custom-decorated bedroom and a plush movie theater-like screening room.

“These rooms represent a sampling of the hundreds of configurations possible,” said Beshouri. “We chose to display one or two solutions for every room in the home, but the possibilities are truly limitless.”

Sound Advice, which recently acquired Arizona-based Showcase Home Entertainment stores, plans to open another Electronic Interiors unit this year in Tampa. “We are confident that this concept will be successful and will translate well into other markets,” Beshouri said.

Meanwhile, across the continent, Ultimate Electronics was busy opening its third and fourth stores in the Phoenix market. The regional specialist, which has been aggressively striking out beyond its Rocky Mountain base, boasts that its new locations “showcase the most comprehensive offering of superior consumer electronics in the Phoenix area,” according to president/chief operating officer David Workman.

“As always, our primary focus every day will be delivering the highest level of product knowledge to disseminate today’s high-technology products,” he said.

Like their 15 sister Ultimate stores in Idaho, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah, the new 32,000-square-foot Phoenix units feature a broad selection of mid- to high-end brands. Unlike some of the older stores, however, the latest locations feature a new focal point: A 15-foot-tall Technology Tower that anchors the selling floor.

The Tower serves as a showcase for cutting-edge digital devices, including the Panasonic Showstopper hard-disk recorder, Sony Glasstron, SharpVision Pure Flat Widescreen HDTV display and the Sony Memory Stick Walkman.

The stores also feature a big-screen TV area with some 50 large-format units on display, as well as five home audio demonstration areas with multiple home theater settings and a home office department. For mobile A/V, the stores provide three demonstration rooms and two demonstration vehicles, which are supported by a six-bay install center.

Also spreading its wings last season was 6th Ave Electronics, the New Jersey-based regional chain and newest member of the high-end Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group). Like its other New York metro-area stores, the seventh unit “is designed in a way that emphasizes 6th Ave’s retail philosophy,” the A/V specialist said.

That philosophy, the company continued, is that “user-friendly, exciting displays, shown as they would look and perform in the customer’s home, [are the best way to] demonstrate the newest products and latest technologies,” including plasma and high-definition television, and recordable DVDs and CDs.

As with previous store openings, the addition of the newest unit-located in Woodbridge, N.J., a regional shopping Mecca-was made into a media event. Attending the grand-opening festivities were radio talk-show host and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, plus PRO Group executive director Roger Heuberger and JVC executive VP/chief operating officer Harry Elias.

There was also cause for celebration in Chicago, where discount department store chain Wards finished renovating 13 additional units, thereby completing its remodeling efforts throughout the Baltimore, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. markets.

The latest rollout of remodeled units represents a major change in Wards’ store format and underscores the significant merchandising initiatives the company has undertaken since 1998 to reinvigorate lackluster sales. Among the changes: Brighter lighting; a wide, circular racetrack; clear sight lines; and improved adjacencies and signage to promote cross-category shopping.

The renovations extend to the newly enlarged CE department, where an expanded array of A/V and communications accessories is displayed within furniture settings, and on upgraded fixturing with color-coded signage and clear, informational graphics.

Meanwhile, major appliances, where Wards maintains category leadership, received increased floor space and wider aisles to allow for working demonstration kitchens and built-in appliance centers.

Also adding outlets was Cambridge SoundWorks, the manufacturer/merchant of home theater, home audio and multimedia products, which hit both coasts by opening a 2,810-square-foot store in Kittery, Maine and a 3,124-square-foot unit in San Ramon, Calif.

Both stores carry the Cambridge SoundWorks product line, as well as such other brands as Harman Kardon, JVC, Marantz, Onkyo, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony.

“The addition of our Kittery and San Ramon stores further serves to solidify the Cambridge SoundWorks’ brand in New England and California regions,” said sales and marketing director Sid Newman. “Our goal is to continue to expand into targeted, high-traffic areas that drive our business forward.”