Cable Operators

Retail Glitz for Time Warner

12/05/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

There’s a glitzy new tenant at Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, Wis., nestled in prime real estate between Marshall Field’s department store and youth magnet Abercrombie & Fitch.

It’s a prototype retail location for Time Warner Cable in suburban Milwaukee — and it opened just in time for the big Thanksgiving holiday shopping rush. Its goal: to entertain and sell consumers on the benefits of cable’s newest products.

NEW DESIGN, NEW ERA

The company isn’t new to retail. Even the Milwaukee division, which set up the mall store, has operated smaller selling kiosks and storefronts for bill collection and other services.

But the new design — housed in a roomy 4,000-square-foot space — includes 40 plasma televisions, a video wall and other buzzworthy features created to attract shoppers to a tutorial in all of the division’s new products, including telephony.

“Five years ago, we weren’t selling all these things,” said Milwaukee division president Jack Herbert. “Is it more complicated for consumers at home? Yes.”

“Past retail experience has shown how important it is to sell in a retail environment,” he added, noting that performance has been good in 12-foot-by-12-foot spaces. With 4,000 square feet — and all products available for hands-on demos — it should be even better.

There are many reasons why the shop was created. Time Warner wants to stem erosion by direct-broadcast satellite, promote product bundling and introduce old and new customers to new and sometimes unfamiliar products.

The shop is staffed by 20 employees and includes four customer service “nooks” where workers can sit quietly with a current or potential customer and answer questions, work out problems with current service or upgrade clients. Hands-on demos include RoadRunner high-speed data work stations and HDTV displays.

The store is the brainchild of Chuck Ellis, Time Warner Cable’s chief marketing officer and Carol Hevey, executive vice president of operations (and Herbert’s predecessor in leading the Milwaukee operation).

The soft launch was Nov. 23, but the system plans a VIP grand opening on Dec. 9.

So far, traffic has been heavy and consumers have been excited, said vice president of public affairs Bev Greenberg.

“This store says state-of-the-art,” she said.

Mayfair Mall in suburban Wauwatosa was selected because it’s visited by an estimated 5 million shoppers a year. It will attract consumers from throughout the 450,000-household Milwaukee division in Southeast Wisconsin, and even draws from the company’s Green Bay/Appleton division to the north, which serves another 300,000 homes.

CLASSES IN DVR USE

The retail operation eventually might collect leads for other cable operators whose customers visit the store.

One innovation is planned but will not be executed until after the hectic holidays. The shop will run classes to teach consumers how to optimally operate products like their DVRs, Greenberg said.

“We’re gonna pull in a lot of nevers and formers” with the retail location, predicted Herbert. “Once we get them in the store, we’re going to work like the dickens to get them back.”

September