IT’S NOT EVERY day you get invited to schmooze under the fluorescent lights of an electronics superstore, but I was keen to check out the flagship example of Noel Leeming at 126 Queen St, and hear what CEO Tim Edwards had to say about the retailer’s plans.
The thing is, Noel Leeming has been very much the underdog of electronics superstores, and it’s even been a little depressing watching it getting royally rogered by its Aussie competition. It wasn’t so long ago that the chain store was voted by TV consumer show Fair Go as having the worst customer service in retail, and not long after, it was sold to some equity firm. In short, not a good look.
But recently, the underdog has been biting back, with a new owner, The Warehouse Group, promising to get in and get the company sorted.
Edwards and his specialists in the various departments took us through the new-look store and explained the concept, and company strategy. Essentially, the amorphous, Mum & Dad look of the old stores has gone, and whiteware and kitchen and home stuff (vacuum cleaners, et al) have been pushed to the back, and the vast chunk of space is given to a more streamlined presentation of specific product categories, leaning heavily on currently expanding markets like smartphones, tablets and headphones.
The Queen St store (originally Bond & Bond) has doubled its size, but is still tiny by comparison to megastores like the one at Wairau Park.
You can’t help noticing the clean display lines, and the influence of the Apple Store aesthetic, although it’s not quite as self-consciously hip as that.
The big emphasis is towards helping customers with choice and advice. To that end, the Mobile Solutions section, as he blurb states, “has been introduced as part of Noel Leeming’s commitment to all things mobile and provides a place where expert staff will help customers discover the latest technology, compare the best plans and connect while in-store.”
That advice concept is extended with a dedicated space for the Open Learning Centre, where even the most technologically challenged customer can get 30 minutes of free coaching, or pay set rates for learning modules.
Another innovation for Noel Leeming is the more interactive nature of the displays. The headphones the company is highlighting, for instance, are all set up with auditioning in mind.
Edwards explained that they’ve trained their staff to be “passionate experts” far removed from the rather unenthusiastic customer service of the old Noel Leeming.
He also hinted that, like Telecom with its new Spark name, there’s also a Noel Leeming rebranding in the wind.
If I had a gripe, apart from the lack of apostrophes on some of the signage (‘todays latest technologies’), it would be the absence of hi-fi, or at least the disparity in offering tasty small streaming audio products from good brands (Denon, B&W) but having only those horrible disco light monstrosities in the mid-and large sized categories. The audio “passionate expert” insisted that Noel Leeming had tried hi-fi and it just hadn’t worked; and that those huge hunks of noise-making plastic were very, very popular. I reckon they’d do well with a carefully chosen entry-level hi-fi system, and even a ‘proper’ turntable (as opposed to those $99 USB ‘convert your vinyl’ turntables). But hey, who am I to mess with the wheels of commerce.
Generally, the new layout certainly makes for a more attractive proposition for browsers, although fridge fans may be disappointed.
The store has one more trick up its sleeve: you can get a custom-printed sign or photo done for your smartphone. On-site. Cool.
They put on canapés, other food goodies and beverages, but I couldn’t quite get into the mood of it. Blame it on feeling like I was in a shop.
The undoubted highlight for many was the chance to try out a pair of Google Glasses, which Noel Leeming had managed to get its mitts on for the occasion. Silly me, I couldn’t figure out quite how to get the eye piece aligned with my (right) eye – maybe the shape of my head is just too Cro-Magnon for a piece of equipment that sophisticated. I got all shy and embarrassed and felt like I was invading people’s privacy just by wearing it, and passed it on to the next lucky media person to try on. GARY STEEL