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12/16/17 9:46 a.m.

Designing the ideal box; Armed with a new store layout, Best Buy Co. Inc. has descended on tech-savvy, coffee-fueled Seattle, the last metro market to be conquered by the retailer

From the outside, the new Best Buy store in this sprawling Seattle suburb resembles the retailer's other big boxes across the United States. There's that welcoming beacon of the sunshine-yellow price tag sign and an SUV-laden parking lot.

But inside, the nation's largest consumer electronics chain has unveiled its fifth substantial store redesign since the Sound of Music audio business became Best Buy in 1983. The launch comes as the Eden Prairie-based retailer opens several stores in the technology haven of Seattle, the last big domestic market it needed to conquer before turning its expansion sights to Canada.

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"This whole store is about innovation and new technology," Best Buy founder, Chairman and CEO Richard Schulze said in an interview last month.

The new layout pushes fast-growing, higher-margin digital goods - such as cameras and DVDs - to front and center in the store. The destination departments of computers, home theater and music line the walls in an attempt to drive shoppers to the store's perimeter.

In a cutthroat retail environment - particularly as merchants face an uncertain holiday season - a store's design can encourage or thwart a would-be buyer's shopping habits. It is crucial as never before for retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition and keep their stores fresh.

Consumers "don't want to be sold things, we want to be empowered to buy," said Sanford Stein, president of Stein Trending Branding Design, a Minneapolis-based retail consultant.

In that vein, Best Buy's new format also introduces a wide center aisle and overhead signs that stress such millennium buzzwords as Clarity, Freedom, Fulfillment, Involvement and Simplicity, instead of rudimentary product names.

"This was all about how we position ourselves for the age of digital products and the information age," said James Damian, the company's vice president of visual merchandising and store design.

The new Best Buy format, known internally as "Concept 5," will be used in all 60-plus stores that the retailer plans to open in its next fiscal year. (By the end of this fiscal year in March, Best Buy expects to be operating about 20 stores with the updated layout.)

An undisclosed Twin Cities location will be retrofitted to the new format in the next 18 months.

"It is important to have a flagship presence in Minneapolis, so that our Minneapolis customer ... has the latest and greatest from Best Buy as well, in terms of shopping experience," Damian said.

Retail update

The shelf life of a store concept "is getting shorter and shorter, because retail competition is getting tougher and tougher," said Stein, the local retail consultant.

Best Buy competitor Circuit City, for example, revamped its store format last year after leaving the appliance business. This year, Circuit City remodeled stores in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., and Chicago markets to make them brighter, warmer and more open, a company spokeswoman said. Circuit City has not renovated any of its nine locations in the Twin Cities.

The rule of thumb in retail is that stores should be updated every four to seven years, depending on the market, said Best Buy store design guru Damian.

Similar to working a complex jigsaw puzzle, Best Buy executives set out two years ago to study and piece together their latest retail format.

The layout had to be flexible and efficient - to accommodate new technology and to fit both the retailer's 45,000-square-foot, large-market store prototype and its 30,000-square-foot, smaller-market box.

As is typical in retail circles, Best Buy took cues from other stores, , said Damian, a 28-year retail design veteran who joined the company in 1998.

The idea of replacing its yellow-tag illuminated checkout stands with a single "queue" line that feeds to multiple registers? That came from Gap stores and, believe it or not, airport ticketing lines.

Selling solutions

With $15.3 billion in annual sales and more than 460 Best Buy stores, the chain wants to be known for providing complete solutions, not just selling commodities, its executives said.

In the new store format, that means the entertainment centers moved out of the office furniture section and were placed next to the TV sets. Conveniently across the aisle is the satellite service display.

Items such as printer paper are "dual merchandised" - meaning they're found in both the computer department and near the digital imaging equipment.

See also: What are the best car speakers on the market

Another feature of the revamped store layout: a separate "transaction center" where consumers can complete more elaborate purchases, such as arranging appliance delivery and Internet service, without clogging the front checkout area.

The theory: If Best Buy is perceived as a complete source of accessories and support, it will be distinctive in the market and build shopper loyalty.

"We knew that we were not going to survive just on price alone - there's no way, especially when you are competing with Wal-Mart," and scores of other merchants that sell electronics, Damian said.

A shopping experience, after all, is part intellectual and part emotional. Consumers have big expectations, many competing options and ever-changing tastes.

Best Buy is becoming a "defining brand" within its niche, said Stein, the retail consultant. "They appear to have a good fix on who they are."

Dual racetrack

Those used to shopping a Best Buy store in the Twin Cities might need a map to navigate a Concept 5 store, such as the location outside of Seattle.

One of the most striking changes is the wide center lane that leads from the retailer's in-floor logo at the store entrance to a "computer valley" of computer, digital imaging and software offerings.

Best Buy long has used a single, "racetrack" aisle winding around the circumference of its stores, which tends to push shoppers to the right.

The problem was that "75 percent of traffic that was coming into the store never made it to the left-hand side," Damian said.

The Concept 5 solution: Use a dual racetrack design. The addition of a center aisle allows for better circulation to both sides of the store and a clearer view of all departments, he said.

Most product categories have changed position in the new store design, including the high-profile computer, home theater and music sections.

To make room for the front display of DVD movies, Best Buy for the first time tinkered with the placement of its top-drawing music department.

"Where others may have traveled, music never left the center" of the store, even when the chain was known as Sound of Music in the 1960s, Damian said.

"There was a lot of concern about doing this, but the math guided us and suggested that you need to drive traffic over here - and [music] was the category that was going to do it," Damian said on a recent tour of the Lynnwood store.

The back right corner in the new store format places appliances between computers and televisions in an effort to attract young families. The back left positions car audio, music and gaming to lure the retailer's core male shopper.

The Lynnwood store earned positive reviews from several of those target customers.

"It's nice, they have a lot of stuff," said 19-year-old Mike King of Everett, Wash.

His friend, David Harrigan, 18, said Best Buy offers more "unheard artists" in its music section than Circuit City.

Seattle entry

Best Buy, which began its national expansion trek in 1989, took more than a decade to reach its last important market frontier - the tech-savvy, coffee-fueled Seattle area, home to Microsoft and Starbucks.

Without heavy advertising or much fanfare, the retailer last year opened stores just north of downtown Seattle and near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Best Buy now has six stores in the Puget Sound region, including a small-market format in Bellingham. Two of its Seattle-area locations are Concept 5 stores.

The retailer plans a total of 10 stores in the Seattle market "as soon as we can get them," CEO Schulze said.

The delay in reaching the Pacific Northwest was logistical, not deliberate, he said.

Best Buy didn't have a distribution center west of Oklahoma before completing a 600,000-square-foot facility in central California two years ago. The retailer recently announced a 400,000-square-foot, $22.5 million expansion to the building in Dinuba, Calif.

"We had to get that in place before we could reach out and serve the entire West Coast, which is now what we're doing," Schulze said.

In a market saturated with such national competitors as Circuit City and CompUSA, and regional players The Good Guys! and Video Only, Best Buy should do well because "the price is really good," said Robert Bowdin, 44, of Everett.

Minutes after the Lynnwood store ribbon-cutting - led by the Best Buy price-tag mascot - Bowdin was browsing in the music section. He already had decided on a pair of Pioneer car audio speakers, the $19.99 grand-opening special, which were to be an early Christmas gift for his son.

For more information: What is the best car speakers on the market

"I was glad to see one opening up so close to where I live," Bowdin said of Best Buy.

- Melissa Levy is at

The Best Buy evolution

Concept 1

1983 to 1989:

- Sound of Music becomes Best Buy superstores.

- Showroom-style, commission sales format.

- Store opened in that era: Burnsville

Concept 2

1989 to 1994:

- Non-commission format with shopping carts, checkout lanes and "grab-and-go" displays.

- Warehouse-style stoes with a primary color palette.

- Store opened in that era: Roseville.

Concept 3

1994 to 1998:

- Expanded music assortment and stressed interactivity

- Experimented with store size, up to 58,000 square feet in Richfield.

- Teal and purple palette with neutral fixtures.

Concept 4

October 1998 to 2001:

- Added "media wall" to emphasize home theater department (in Maple Grove).

- Added mobile audio "boom room" and installation bays.

- Store prototype is 45,000 square feet, or 30,000 square feet in smaller markets.

- Color scheme is yellow, black and brushed aluminum, with ribbon signage.

Concept 5

Launched in Seattle, October 2001:

- Fast-growing, higher-margin, digital goods moved to front and center of stores.

- Destination departments of computers, home theater and music pushed to sides to drive traffic to store perimeter.

- Signs highlight lifestyle, not product names.

- A single "queue" checkout system, lined with convenience store of impulse-type purchases.

Melissa Levy; Staff Writer


93gsxturbo Dork
12/16/17 5:02 p.m.

I'd suggest a used Honda Spree.  Should be comparable in price and better in every way.

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