West Van Future Shop First of New Hub Concept

A frisbee’s throw from the shores of Burrard Inlet, Park Royal Mall in West Vancouver was Canada’s first covered mall when it opened in 1950. It appears very modern, though corners of it still betray it’s age. Last night, I biked over the bridge for the launch of the mall’s latest facelift, the first of a new concept in Future Shop stores.

The centrepiece of the new store is the “Connected Home” hub in the middle of the store. This area is spacious and features only a handful of select products set up as one could in their home, like an Xbox 360 connected to a TV which can pull media from a Windows Home Server. Staffing this area are Connectivity Experts, a newly created non-commission position dedicated to answering customer questions and explaining how one can connect together all the shiny gadgets. The area seemed optimized to the clientele of the area, i.e. an espresso machine that cost as much as my MacBook Pro.

Beyond this hub, the rest of the store looks fairly typical, though has obviously received a fresh coat of pain, updated signage, and lighting of a cooler colour temperature. The video game section has received more prominence, with dedicated Gaming Experts, another new position, and a tree of TVs hooked to demo consoles. Notably absent from the store were audio CDs, a sign of changing times. The store features the new ConnectPro in-home service for home theatre or computer installation.

If you approach the store from the interior of the mall at the right angle, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an Apple Store. This is a “store within a store” similar to those seen in some Best Buy locations, but larger and more segregated from the rest of the computers. No textual signage, only the white Apple logo. The tables and backdrop in this area were similar to those seen in Apple Stores and it was staffed by an employee wearing an Apple shirt. Elsewhere in the store, Macs are also displayed beside PCs, a notable change from the olden days before Macs were cool and appealing to the masses.

A question that I heard raised twice is how Future Shop is distinguishing itself from its parent company Best Buy. Burnaby-based Future Shop was purchased by the American Best Buy in 2001. In the years since, Best Buy has opened stores across Canada seemingly competing with their wholly owned subsidiary. It was explained that when the purchase first happened, Future Shop’s brand recognition was high so it didn’t make sense to rebrand the stores. Going forward, they want to position Future Shop as the higher-end retailer, and Best Buy as lower-end. The stores already reflect this with one key difference: Future Shop salespeople operate on commission while all Best Buy employees are hourly. However, the explanation of this strategy seemed somewhat vague, possibly reflecting that it isn’t solidly fleshed out. It’s plausible that the company isn’t worried about this as long as both chains are performing well.

The second of these concept Future Shops will be the Edmonton South location, opening in the Fall. I’m more curious to see how this store concept works there; in my humble opinion, selling big TVs and consumer electronics in West Van is too easy. Kudos to Future Shop for making strides to humanize the big box store experience.