Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — In a grand, high tech attempt to redefine retailing as entertainment, Viacom’s first store will have 60 spots to watch, listen to or interact with the Viacom brands and characters, whether it’s the “Beavis & Butthead” cartoon bad boys, Capt. Kirk from “Star Trek” or Marsha from “The Brady Bunch.”
The 30,000-square-foot Viacom Entertainment Store, under construction at 600 North Michigan Avenue in Chicago and scheduled to open May 3, is seen posting $15 million to $18 million in first-year sales, according to Thomas Byrne, vice chairman of the Blockbuster Entertainment Group, the Viacom division overseeing the launch of the Viacom Entertainment Store.
“We believe the store has to be an experience that’s no less exciting than a play or a movie,” said Byrne during a presentation at the annual Herbert Blueweiss Key Issues Seminar, Tuesday, at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
The other panelists in the seminar, entitled “The New Innovators: The Interaction of Entertainment and Fashion,” were Peter Starrett, president of Warner Bros. Studio Store; Andrea Jung, senior vice president and president of global marketing for Avon Products, and Tommy Hilfiger. The panel was moderated by Emanuel Weintraub, president of Weintraub Associates.
According to Byrne, the Viacom Entertainment Store will offer 1,800 stock-keeping units of exclusive merchandise ranging from vintage apparel of the Seventies to futuristic “Star Trek” uniforms. About 60 percent of the merchandise is in apparel, jewelry and accessories.
Viacom’s cartoon characters such as “Rugrats” and “Terry Toons” are more recent phenomena than Disney’s Mickey Mouse or Warner’s Looney Tunes. But Viacom has established brand equity in its cable channels — MTV, VH-1 and Nickelodeon — and the opportunity to merchandise Paramount’s feature films.
In addition to apparel, there will be merchandise for extreme sports, collectibles, toys and games all with themes from Viacom properties.
Viacom is spending roughly $250 a square foot to construct its flagship, the first of possibly 10 around the world in cities including New York, San Francisco’s Union Square, London and Tokyo, Byrne said. No specific sites have been announced other than Chicago. In New York, Viacom is reportedly interested in 57th Street, Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan and Times Square, following in the footsteps of Warner’s and Disney.
Byrne said that future flagships wouldn’t be launched until 1998, but in the meantime, two other mall-based chains could be launched, one themed around the Nickelodeon channel and another around MTV, provided the products sell well in Chicago.
Byrne said the two-level Chicago unit will be divided into six major areas, each with a theme from a Viacom property. For example, there will be an MTV area, which for its first season will focus on Seventies vintage clothing bearing the Found by MTV label. Items range from $5 accessories to $50 leather jackets, with the bulk of the merchandise priced from $20 to $30. While there will be the obligatory T-shirts and baseball caps, a lot of the clothing will have a true fashion point of view.
The “Star Trek” area will focus more on hard lines, with a gallery for collectibles, including models of the Enterprise priced up to $10,000.
There will also be a Paramount department, which will sell merchandise based on the studio’s movies including “Clueless,” as well as departments themed around VH-1, Nickelodeon for children’s programming and Nick at Nite for classic TV oldies. There will also be a cafe. The store appeals to a wide range of ages, and will present merchandise “stories” in each area, Byrne said.
Among the interactive features, you can be photographed getting “beamed” onto the Enterprise, and you can try to stump Trekkies with trivia questions about “Star Trek” to win $5 gift cards. There will also be readings, areas where you can either watch a video or get inside one yourself, appearing side-by-side with Beavis and Butthead or the Rugrats, and there will be a “rant room” where you can make a video and speak your mind. If Viacom likes what you say, it’s possible the video will get played on MTV.
Viacom officials are touting the Chicago store as “the most interactive entertainment store ever built”
“It will have 60 interactive and media components,” drawn from Viacom properties, Byrne said.
According to another Viacom official, the store has a three-story, circular atrium with a “sense-surround” effect, hyping Viacom properties and setting the stage for what’s ahead in the store.
In other presentations, Jung said Avon has totally modernized its image and that “the power of entertainment and fashion will add horsepower to our product line.”
Addressing his company’s success, Hilfiger said it’s based on strong marketing and tying in with the entertainment world. “We’ve created a lifestyle advertising campaign — a healthy American look seen in top magazines, outdoors, on VH-1, MTV and on networks. Marketing is a very key element. We dress rap groups, rock groups. We’re very involved in the music world.” CDs, a TV pilot and a book are in the works, he added, and he noted the possibility of tie-ins with sports heroes, though there are no plans currently.

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