Queen City's New Castle
By Rob Stott
If you were to ask Queen City Audio Video & Appliances CEO Roddey Player back in 2011 what his plans were for expanding the business, he might have given you a slightly crooked look. At that time, just a handful of years ago, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based AV and appliances retailer—like many in the industry—had fallen on some hard times.
“We had been on a huge expansion run throughout the area around Charlotte, but when the housing market crashed the bottom fell out of the industry,” Player said. “It was devastating to a lot of people in our business.”
Queen City faced the challenges of going through reorganization in 2012. Though difficult, Player said, it was the only option his company had to right-size itself in a quick manner. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed Queen City to sustain itself, weather the storm, and remain in existence—something that not all retailers in the industry were able to do at that time.
“My thoughts were that three things had to happen: Our customers had to stay with us, our suppliers had to stay with us, and our employees had to stay with us through all of that,” he said. “And they did, all three of them did. Everybody put their heads down and did what they're supposed to do and all they could do. So we were able to fight through it.”
Not only did Queen City fight through those difficult times, they managed to come out the other end stronger and in a position to thrive and get back to the growth trend the company was on.
In just the last year, Player oversaw the opening of two new stores, including a brand new operation in Pineville, North Carolina that has Queen City occupying an entire two-story building next to the Carolina Place Mall on the outer belt of Charlotte. The new showroom is situated near major retailers in home furnishings and electronics, and represents a major step forward for Queen City.
Designing the New Digs
I saw it as a tremendous challenge, and a tremendous opportunity as well. The bottom line is that it was a beautiful building and we wanted to come up with the right design and in-store experience.—David Rodriguez, Principal, Specialized Retail Services
Opened in early 2018, the new location is the largest and most involved space Queen City has in its current portfolio of stores. The building itself, which Player scouted in early 2017 and leased later that year, is incredibly unique in its design with floor-to-ceiling windows that cover nearly 80 percent of the building. Faced with this design challenge, Player sought outside counsel to help build out the interior space for this new location.
“To me as a retailer, we're always trying to cram too much into whatever space we’re working with,” he said. “And so having somebody with the ability to size things and space things and lay things out, we thought would be a really worthy expense.”
With that in mind, Player, a member of the Nationwide Marketing Group, attended a one of the buying group’s PrimeTime vendor show to seek help with the design of his new showroom. There he was introduced to David Rodriguez, principal of Specialized Retail Services, and the two struck up a conversation about the challenges of Queen City’s newly acquired space.
“I saw it as a tremendous challenge, and a tremendous opportunity as well,” Rodriguez told Dealerscope. “The bottom line is that it was a beautiful building and we wanted to come up with the right design and in-store experience.”
One of the first challenges Player and Rodriguez faced was how those floor-to-ceiling windows would impact the layout of the showroom. “The challenge was how to control the light from those massive windows,” Rodriguez explained. “You have to make sure that your angles are correct based on how the sun rises and sets. But I think what was most important to us was that it's a beautiful building. We wanted to maximize the visual impact by creating sight lines that allow customers to see throughout the store from any angle.”
Coast to Coast
While the building itself is a unique case study in showroom design, so too is the business relationship between Player and Rodriguez. The idea that Queen City would seek Specialized Retail Services’ expertise might have been an impossible concept a decade or so ago—the two companies are literally based 3,000 miles apart.
In an era not so long ago, the idea of sending printed blueprints back and forth might have been enough to scare a retail shop owner like Player away from the prospect of working with a company based on the opposite coast. To be fair, travel was certainly involved on the part of Rodriguez, but in laying out the showroom he was able to work with Player through software and 3D renderings that allowed the two to hash out design decisions before a single nail was ever hammered into place. And they got it all done through virtual meetings that let them look at each other and the 3D layouts together.
“I mean we butted heads on a lot on the design. The vision of what it would look like was a struggle for me until we started putting these things into the software. We were able to see the results in real time in an almost 3D, 360-degree kind of format that allowed us to really envision what the store would look like before we even started on it,” Player said. “That was really valuable to me as the owner. We really didn't have a vision before we started. We knew it was going to be a successful property because of the street frontage and the street appeal and the size of the building. We knew we could make that work.”
One of the design elements that really sets the new store apart is the use of branded kitchen kiosks that display different product suites in a true-to-life layout. For example, a Whirlpool kitchen package consisting of a refrigerator, dishwasher, range, and hood are displayed in a vignette that resembles a consumer’s kitchen with elegant custom cabinetry, island countertops, and more.
“It’s really kind of just the basic strategy of selling in packages,” Player said. “So, if it's Whirlpool, if it's KitchenAid, or if it's GE, the consumer will say, ‘Well, this is kind of what it's going to look like in my home.’ We've moved in that direction over the years, but this is taking it to the next degree. This is how we can best display it as a package, and sell it as a package.”
And Queen City is already realizing the benefits of this new store layout. According to Player, the store is delivering a higher revenue per ticketed item and higher revenue per delivery, all of which is making the business more efficient and more profitable.
The design and layout gives our customers a whole new experience and a whole new level of comfort in the brands that they're trying to decide between.—Roddey Player, CEO, Queen City
“I think that gave us an opportunity, from a design perspective, to really focus on putting that vendor's best foot forward in a specialized display that really brings the product to life,” explained Rodriguez. “We also took full advantage of the smart home technologies that are available in each of the products utilizing the robust Wi-Fi connectivity in the store.”
Taking the concept a step further, Player and Rodriguez designed a Kitchen Theater experience shared by four premium vendors. The vendors have mobile cabinetry in their display areas that can move into the Kitchen Theater to host live cooking demonstrations. They basically can turn Queen City into a Food Network¬ cooking show in a matter of minutes. Player said these featured vendors have already taken advantage of the space in its first few months of being open.
“We've got these chefs coming in to demonstrate induction cooktops that customers can't normally see and certainly can't actually use in most settings,” Player said. “But they can actually come in and use induction cooktops, convection ovens. After the demo, we serve them a light tapas kind of menu. And it just gives them a whole new experience and a whole new level of comfort in the brands that they're trying to decide between.”
The layout, he said, involved a ton of work on the part of everyone involved in designing the store, but the result is an area where these featured vendors have an opportunity to really utilize the space and attract potential customers into the store who might not have otherwise thought to visit. “It's quite a spectacle to see these chefs perform. It changes the whole dynamic of the store,” Rodriguez said. “It's a completely different experience for customers rather than just going down and shopping at a big box.”
In moving into a space that’s larger than anything Queen City has traditionally filled, the Pineville location allowed Player to explore some new product verticals.
A quick escalator ride up from the appliances area, Queen City’s second-floor houses everything from televisions and speakers, to furniture, to art, and other home furnishings that are new to the business. These are products that a Queen City customer might be able to find next door or a few doors down from the A/V and appliance retailer, but Player saw these new product categories (in addition to their traditional offerings) as an opportunity to be a one-stop-shop for their customers.
“We've got it all, so we have created a place the customers are in our stores buying appliances first,” he said. “But now we get in front of the furniture retailers, and we can show them what we have to offer in quality furniture, bedding, and accessories before they get out to the broader market.”
As a member of the Nationwide Marketing Group, Player has access to a lot of those different verticals that expand beyond appliances and other electronics categories. But access aside, the thought to even consider expanding is a solid lesson in a retailer being flexible and understanding the market in which they operate, and how they can turn that into a sound business strategy.
Rodriguez also subscribes to that type of thinking and strategic mindset, which was apparent throughout the entire process of working with Player and the Queen City staff. “I like the fact that he was very hands-on and a knowledgeable business owner,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of my clients don't have the ability to communicate their vision and the direction they want to take their company in. That was very refreshing, and he certainly gave me a lot of input and he influenced a lot of the design decisions.”
The result of that work and Player’s hands-on approach is a new showroom that is beautiful and intelligently laid out. It’s a location that is set up for and already realizing success.
Image credits: Daniel Gray Photography