Sonos

For Sonos, the maker of home sound systems, there’s nothing like going direct to really show customers the product.

Sonos general manager of stores Whitney Walker spoke about the company’s flagship at 101 Greene Street, which opened nearly a year ago. Walker explained the meticulous journey the company took in opening its first store. Walker was one of several speakers talking about how to improve the in-store experience at the annual Future Stores conference in Seattle that ended Wednesday.

Sonos launched in 2002 and is expected to begin selling two of its music speakers in Apple stores beginning in October.

The point of the flagship was to actually show how Sonos fits into the rest of the home, rather than how it fits on a display table.

And much like the company’s start, taking about three years to launch its first product into the market, Sonos signed the lease on the store in August 2014 and spent nearly two years designing, developing and constructing the flagship.

“I think a lot of retailers could start with a brownfield and in two years have completely demolished and built a store from the ground-up in the amount of time it took us just to remodel 4,500 square feet,” Walker said.

The result was what Walker said is a hybrid space that shows the merging of culture, product on display and demos.

“I think this notion of cultural space is really, really important,” Walker said. “When you work in fashion retail, the mantra is always about new product. You always need something new in order to drive interest.…Our ability to create interest and excitement and urgency to visit our store through product releases is one time a year. That’s no way to build a successful retail business.”

Sonos executives asked themselves “What would it mean to be the record store in the modern age?” as they brainstormed how to design the store.

To get that answer, the company built out two full-scale store prototypes inside its warehouse and tested them for almost two years. The first format was a much more conventional store design Walker said ultimately failed. The concepts were tested by more than 300 people before the full-scale version of Green Street was built.

The result is a store that includes a wall of sound sculpture composed of about 300 Sonos speakers, seven listening rooms, a living room community gathering place and an art-gallery-like space doubling as a cash wrap.

“Up until the time we opened the store, the best possible place anyone could experience our product was in someone’s home and that’s a tough way to scale,” Walker said. “When you walk up to an in-line display table and you want to listen to a speaker, you can figure out if it sounds good or not based on what’s available to you, but our product does so much more than that.”

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