The ribbon cutting, l. to r.: Nancy Wood, president/CEO, Century City Chamber of Commerce; Jorge Madrigal, senior director, Samsung North America; Rick Calacci, senior vice president, LG Electronics; Tom Campbell, corporate director/chief technologist; Video & Audio Center; and Joseph and Mayer Akhtarzad, co-owners, Video & Audio Center.
Southern California-based retailer Video & Audio Center cut the ribbon Jan. 25 on its new flagship showcase interactive store, bringing experiential consumer technology and connectivity retailing to the tony environs of the $1.4 billion Westfield Century City Open Mall in Los Angeles.
Situated next to an Apple Store, the new location, a move from the retailer’s previous spot within the complex, was built from the ground up over a four-month period.
It is the realization of what Tom Campbell, Video & Audio Center corporate director and chief technologist, described as an interior floorplan maximizing “vertical and lateral square footage.”
It incorporates elements such as tall, wall-mounted TV displays in the Sony and Samsung areas that tier screen sizes top to bottom, smaller to larger, as well as stacked, two-stories-high wedding-cake-like presentations that make the most of this prime real estate, vaulting products such as LG’s OLED TVs well above the showroom floor.
The unique layout, he added, has prompted Co-Owners Joseph and Mayer Akhtarzad to apply for a federal copyright on the design. “This is the future of in-store retailing in an ecommerce environment,” Campbell said. “You could call it true ‘vertical integration.’”
An exterior kiosk carrying the showroom’s name, located a stone’s throw away from the main entryway, which mall-goers encounter before they even reach the store, also serves as a focal point where emerging consumer technologies will be highlighted on a rotating basis – “we’re even ready and wired for 8K,” said Campbell. That kiosk will also showcase the company’s Just One Touch custom installation services and white-glove same-day delivery/setup Platinum Concierge Service – two amenities in tune with the expectations of this high-end mall’s clientele.
The philosophy behind the store design, explained Campbell, exemplifies the Akhtarzads’ goal to give customers “not just selection; people want to see, feel and touch the product. They want confirmation and validation – and that takes a brick-and-mortar presence. Retail is not dead – it’s evolving, and those who don’t evolve won’t survive,” Campbell said.
The storefront itself is actually an invisible “air wall” with no doors or windows, and uses temperature-regulating technology that enables elimination of the customary glass barrier that might inhibit passersby from stepping inside to explore.
“The whole store is a demo room,” explained Campbell, because, with everything essentially ‘live’ and interactive, it encourages browsers to try out things like headphones and Bluetooth speakers - and personal appliances such as the Dyson hair dryer - for themselves.
“We’re taking a hybrid marketing/retail approach” to merchandising, he continued. “Seventy percent of customers, once they are in-store, buy in-store.” He said he expects this iteration of experiential retailing to go a long way in encouraging feet in the door and in discouraging consumers from going home and then opting to make an online purchase. “In brick-and-mortar retailing, it’s no longer enough to just stock it deep and sell it cheap.”
Asked why Video & Audio Center’s experiential approach should succeed where others’ attempts have had mixed results, he said the difference is in “knowing how to close the customer.”
Campbell said plans are in the works to “move in this direction” with Video & Audio Centers’ four other storefronts.
Among the few hundred attendees there to bless the enterprise were local politicians and high-level vendor and content company executives.
“You raised the bar on retailing,” said 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment President Michael Dunn in congratulatory remarks at the event. “This is about technology that consumers want to experience,” added Rick Calacci, LG Electronics’ senior vice president of sales.
Mike Fasulo, Sony Electronics president and COO, was also on hand to offer well wishes, and presented the Akhtarzads with a plaque recognizing their 36 years of partnership with the vendor.
Products on display which will be primed for active demo on the official open-for-business date sometime within the week of Jan. 31 included selections from all of the retailer’s vendors; categories spanned UHD 4K and OLED TVs, smart appliances from LG and Samsung, audio, voice control smart speakers, models with AI, VR and AR capabilities, gaming and connected home devices - and even a robotic bar tender.
Joseph Akhtarzad said this store is but his latest salvo in a 36-year-long drive to provide his vendors with relevant, high-visibility venues for the presentation of their latest technologies. “Manufacturers need Video & Audio Center just as I need them,” he said. “We’re not after the do-it-yourself customer – we’re after the ones who want turnkey solutions, and we build on that trend.”