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Vann's Turns It ON

Montana's multi-channel retailer reinvents itself with a new-format store and fresh ways to engage consumers

November 1, 2010 By Janet Pinkerton
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Seeking to expand beyond its CE/appliance legacy, Vann's is partnering with Apple, Sony and other vendors to launch a new retail brand and format this fall: ON, a mall-based store focused on convergence and content-driven products.

The store will practice what it preaches by using the latest business processes and ecommerce tools, such as cloud-based computing, custom POS solutions and proprietary networking applications, which will allow customers to share their thoughts about the store and its products with others.

"The growth in CE is in these emerging categories where we don't do business today," said George Manlove, Vann's CEO. "It's time to pursue those categories in a non-traditional model."

ON is slated for a soft open early November in a 4,500 square-foot space in the Southgate Mall, a lifestyle mall in Missoula, Mont. The one-level, enclosed shopping center attracts about eight million shoppers annually. ON's hard opening is set for late November. The store will remain a wholly owned subsidiary of Vann's and will operate seven days a week, from 10am to 9pm.

The goal of the store - staffed and serviced by passionate enthusiasts - is to showcase state-of-the-art consumer technology solutions. Think of it as a multi-branded Apple Store.

Apple will be ON's anchor brand, but the store will also sell traditional consumer electronics products, including flat-panel TVs, digital cameras and camcorders, as well as high-growth emerging CE products and technologies, such as smart phones, tablet computers, netbooks, gaming (especially 3D gaming), and content delivery. In partnership with Sony, ON will feature a 3D interactive theater.

ON also will merchandise streaming media throughout the store, including Internet TV, Pandora, Rhapsody and LaLa Internet radio, Netflix and Vudu movie content. Sonos music systems, and smartphones from the likes of Blackberry and Motorola are also slated for the mix.

ON's store layout includes a concierge desk, a theater for demonstrations, an "Idea Corral" for business or social meet-ups, and product displays that show lifestyle applications. "It will be very, very high touch," Manlove said. "It will be staffed by people who love the product."

ON's sales force will be non-commissioned. A "street team" will promote store events to bystanders within the mall.

ON's target demographic spans consumers of all ages and technology levels, with a household income of $100,000.

Vann's has been an Apple specialist since 1992, but Manlove doubts his brick-and-mortar customer base would necessarily be too excited if the traditional stores began selling hip, cool and cutting technologies and products.

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