Phones 4u has been hard at work since last September ‘transforming’ stores at lightning speed to create a new look and image. Not only are staff benefitting, but customers are noticing as well.
Phones 4u retail development director, John Welsh walks Mobile through the changes and explains the thinking behind it all.
It’s a grey morning in central London and work has just been completed in one of the retailer’s Oxford Street shops down by Tottenham Court Road. Another store towards Marble Arch is being completed today.
Welsh explains that the process is tough and the operational team involved is working at full capacity to ensure all goes to plan.
He says: ‘We will have 197 stores completed today and it is our intention to have all the stores done by the end of July. We have been refreshing around 18 shops a week on average.’
Phones 4u has kept tight-lipped about how much it is spending on the refresh, but it has said it is a ‘multimillion-pound’ process.
It is making a huge investment, which some might question the timing of. But Welsh believes the time is right, and so does Phones 4u’s board. He says: ‘The board recognised that we were overdue to bring the standard up to scratch. It is very difficult to drive a strong store standard when the in-store experience is not up to scratch.’
The new design of the stores is not a radical departure from Phones 4u’s bold style and statement. However, the outlets are toned down and have a slicker feel to them.
Welsh explains: ‘I wanted to keep the landing and desking area, but I wanted stores that are more contemporary; to make the product a hero and to get theatre into the store.’
The aim of the refresh was to have a much more ‘contemporary’ feel. To achieve that, several new elements have been introduced to the stores as well as existing features being refreshed.
Three stores – the Trafford store and two Currys stores – now have interactive demo hubs. The hubs allow staffers to demo a handset while being filmed and it is shown on two screens.
However, the retailer has bigger ambitions for it. Welsh says: ‘We want to test it with staff and customers first. The screens will run content via Wi-Fi in-store and we want there to be the ability to plug phones in to
On top of that, there is a TV display in shop windows that will have key promotions running on it all day and through the night when the shops close.
And there is a significant increase in the number of bays where products can be displayed.
‘We have had an average increase in selling space of 30%, eight bays have gone to 10.5 or 11 bays,’ says Welsh.
Technology appears to be the theme in the refresh. There is no logo or colour changes, everything that is taking place is much more subtle – not a word usually associated with the retailer.
Even the walls have been decorated with a technology theme, new white wallpaper with outlines of handsets, laptops and dongles. The wallpaper replaces primary blue walls and the ceiling is painted white instead of red.
Lots of little changes are being implemented to show Phones 4u as a tech savvy retailer.
It seems as if the retailer is preparing itself as fully as possible for the future. As products become more sophisticated, Phones 4u is carrying out simple changes that will allow them to give maximum impact.
For example, the new display units now have power points that will allow Phones 4u the flexibility to display products in an interactive way if it needs to.
However, despite a trend for live handsets in mobile retail stores, Phones 4u continues to shy away from the trend.
Welsh says: ‘No, we don’t have live handsets because the sales process means that the demo is done on the desk.’
Welsh is keen to send out the message that Phones 4u staff are experts in their field.
One way that is being done is through the use of the ‘back wall solution’ where common consumer questions have been placed. The idea being that customers will know that they can ask those questions and staff will know the answers.
As an independent retailer on the high street, Welsh says: ‘We are deliberately not like network stores. We are future-proofing our units and stores and the team that has worked on it from an operational side and POS have done a fantastic job.’
Phones 4u is up against increasing competition in the technology market. But, the moves and the sounds it is making show that it is still looking for ways to innovate, and looking towards its future.
The reaction from the store staff in the Oxford Street stores is enthusiastic, and the consultative process with managers indicates that this is not a top-down initiative, but one that encompasses the whole company.