Along Route 59 in Naperville, Illinois, a consumer electronics retail corridor has sprouted up like stalks of corn along a Midwestern country road. Within a stone’s throw of the Fox Valley Shopping Center sits a Best Buy store on one corner, Circuit City on another and Tweeter right across the way. But the latest store to crop up in the A/V retail field is already plowing its way ahead of the competition.
Led by second-generation owner, Joe Barrett, Barrett’s Home Theater celebrated the grand opening of its first “free-standing” retail store in mid-September, having been a mall-based business (in two locations) over the last 30 years. The new 4,000-square-foot store has allowed Barrett to increase its product offerings and visibility, and that, Barrett said, already has the competition taking notice.
“We did so well our opening weekend that on the windshield of every car in our parking lot on Monday night was 10-percent-off flyer from Best Buy,” Barrett said. “I think it’s really funny that we have such a big company like that worried about us.”
What might have the big-box boys scrambling is an elegant new retail store, designed by Ideation Studio, owned by a veteran specialty A/V retailer with a very loyal and long-standing client base. Barretts has been a family-owned and managed audio and video specialist since the opening of its first store in Oak Park, Illinois, in the summer of 1966 by Joe’s parents. Chicago’s first Mitsubishi television retailer, Barretts’ commitment to service has been confirmed by the fact that it has grown to become one of Chicago’s leading home entertainment authorities. The company is a long-standing member of HTSA (Home Theater Specialists of America), CEDIA and PARA. Joe Barrett, in fact, served as HTSA president in 2002 and on the board of the buying group for five years.
With the formula for success well established, all that was missing until recently was a fabulous show space. “You don’t open a store like this every day,” Joe Barrett admitted. “Our customers loved doing business with us before, but now we’re giving them the environment where when they walk in they know they’re in the right place.”
Unlike many other specialty firms around the country, Barretts has weathered the economic storm of the past three years quite well. This success, Barrett said, afforded the company’s recent capital investment. That expenditure, in turn, will allow the company to provide more services than was possible in its mall-based store. With seven full-time CEDIA-certified installers, custom installation already played a vital role in Barretts’ business. A larger, design-focused facility, however, will provide a path toward even more growth in custom. Increased square footage has, in fact, already enabled Barretts to offer theater seating (from BarcoLounger) for the first time. “We couldn’t sell seating before, because our mall stores were only 3,000 square feet,” Barrett said. “Now we have a dozen different seating arrangements from which to choose.”
Ultimately, a facility that is of this scale and scope also provides many more merchandising and demonstrative opportunities in a simulated real-world setting.
“We have five room presentations and vignettes that are done in lifestyle-type environments with carpet, wallpaper, cabinets and seating,” Barrett explained. “We have three dedicated home theater rooms in a good/better/best arrangement–all with Runco projectors, and we have a seven-channel room.”
Perhaps the most creative concept is Barretts’ SpeakerCraft “store within a store,” which has been designed for the do-it-yourself enthusiast who wants to try his own custom installation.
“This is the customer who has just ripped out his basement, he’s looking at some two-by-fours and he has the ability to work with his hands and wants to do his own custom installation,” Barrett explained. “Instead of alienating these guys, we’re going to put our arms around them.”
All necessary custom installation inventory is in the SpeakerCraft Store room, which even contains a separate cash register. “All of the wall plates are in there for all the different IR choices and all the volume control choices,” Barrett said. “Every in-ceiling and in-wall speaker they sell is on display. We came to Jeremy Burkhardt at SpeakerCraft, and he liked the idea.”
SpeakerCraft was just one of many vendors who have embraced the idea of the new store. “All of the vendors were really supportive,” Barrett said. “A lot of them are looking for dealers that are invested in their businesses. When they do, their support seems to be stronger.”
When you walk in the door at Barretts, the first vignette sets the tone for the store. “There’s a big bay window without glass in it and you can see into the first vignette on the right,” Barrett said. “We took the whole wall from left to right and did a bookcase, and then some columns and another bookcase to hold A/V, and then we did some beautiful columns and a mantle over a fireplace. Above the fireplace we hung a Fujitsu 50-inch plasma. So when you walk in and look to the right, you see the gorgeous environment.”
Another noteworthy feature of the store is a HD big-screen “platform,” with a slate walkway, that has been designed at eye level for customers who are walking through store. The front of the store contains an elegantly designed “cash wrap” counter with four closing stations. “We put the closing stations right up from so customers would see other customers buying. Each cubicle has a Tyler terminal and high-speed Internet capability,” Barrett said.
All of the rooms are designed with Middle Atlantic racks, and most of the vignettes are merchandised around a specific speaker supplier. One vignette contains all Definitive Audio and another is done with all B&W and a third vignette is designed around M&K. “These rooms were designed with open architecture for the guy who is intimidated by walking into a room. We didn’t put doors on any of the five vignettes.”
In the store’s home theater area, Barrett put Definitive’s best speakers in one room, M&K’s best in another and the B&W Nautilus in the third. “Each room is the personality of the speakers, and we then just merchandised around that with all the video and cabinets that made sense.”
An additional 4,000 square feet of the store is being held for future expansion. In that space, Barrett said that he hopes to build what he may call “Your Electronic Home.” The concept would be to partner with a builder who would want to recreate his showroom in the Barretts store. “We would show the client how audio/video can integrate into your lifestyle seamlessly,” Barrett explained.
In addition to a functional stock room Barretts also contains a seminar room that can host 70 or 80 people. “There’s a builder, Normandy Builders on the west side of Chicago, who’s going to start doing some seminars in our facility,” Barrett noted. “We think it’s awesome because we’re going to have customers that are already planning to put some money into their house who will be coming through our showroom.”
The last room of the store will become “The Lower Level” or “The Man’s Room,” Barrett said. “We’re going to put in a six-foot pool table and one of the builders is going to re-create a killer basement bar,” he explained. “We’ll also hang some plasmas on some articulating arms and some LCDS.”
If the opening weekend is any indication, Barretts’ store design concepts are already functioning according to plan. “I just couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out,” Barrett said. “The walkway provided such a nice flow to the store. Everybody used it. The sight lines in the four corners of the store are wonderful. You can really see what’s happening at all times. The oversize cash wrap really provides for a comfortable environment for the consumer. What was really great was that at one time we counted 63 customers in the store over the weekend, and the store wasn’t crowded. It was functioning wonderfully. The ability for the store to absorb the heightened activity is impressive.”
Barrett credits his willingness to invest in a new store to the influence of other high-end retailers that he’s met through HTSA. “I saw how well other guys in the group were executing these types of business, and I knew that I wasn’t taking a ill-advised chance in what I was doing. I saw examples of some really fine retail locations around country. I took what I learned from them and combined that with our existing reputation. Everything came together.”
-Jeremy J. Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems