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Retail Excellence: : The ON Store, Missoula, Mont.

Moving ON Up

August 2011 By Jeff O'Heir
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Once again, George Manlove could feel the winds of change rattling the foundation of the consumer electronics industry. This time, though, it was more like a tornado.

Manlove, the CEO of Vann's, was always good at spotting trends and acting on them early in the game. In 1992 he was one of the first CE retailers to become an Apple dealer, forming a valuable relationship that continues today. In 1997, Vann's built its own e-commerce platform, becoming one of the first CE retailers to sell online. Today, Vanns.com is ranked as one of the best in the country. Other retail innovations followed.

Fast-forward to 2008 where those winds kicked up again, practically knocking Manlove off his feet. Impersonal, soulless big-box stores dominate retail; product margins are in the gutter; mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous; and consumers are forming lines to get into something called the Apple Store.

"I had a feeling the traditional model of CE retailing, the big-box way of retailing, was going to be severely challenged with all these mobile devices and so forth," Manlove said. "And when Apple opened its retail stores, we saw it grow and grow. It was about the customer experience, how passionate the customers were about the in-store experience. I wanted to replicate that."

So Manlove created The ON Store, a boutique CE retailer that more than a few industry players believe out-Apples the Apple Store. Located in the Southgate Mall in Missoula, Mont., the 4,500-square-foot space features a full line of Apple products, as well as a selective mix of mobile devices, including those based on the Android OS; audio gear; and other CE products from the industry's leading vendors.

"The Apple Store certainly inspired it, but that wasn't where the concept was founded," Manlove said. "It was about services, and content, and that we were going to be selling razors and razor blades. I knew that environment did not fit under our appliance, electronics and retail legacy roof. So we actually came up with a different brand."

Behind that brand is a concept—smaller store; select mix of CE products with a focus on wireless/mobility; highly stylized design; passionate sales associates who live and breathe the latest mobile and computing technologies; full demonstrations; a growing list of customer services—that few, if any, independent retailer has tried.

 

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