The answer, as it turns out in most cases, is inside a friend’s house – representing the main design rationale of the audio brand’s Soho store and its push to increase its retail presence.
Speaking at the recent NRF Big Show on a walk-through tour of the new Sonos store in Soho, Whitney Walker, GM stores at Sonos, said establishing ‘your mission’ and providing a retail experience that adds value to your product have been fundamental strategic drivers over the last four years for the company.
“So much of we do in retail is focused on, the word we use is experience and experiential, and there a lot of things that you can do that are adjunct to your product, but I think that what we try to do in our retail environment is come back to ‘we are adding value to our product in some way,” he said.
“It’s up to me to explain what our mission is at Sonos, which is to fill every home with music,” he said.
“It’s a really simple concept and it’s something that everyone in the company, doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer or a product designer, it’s something you can relate your mission to.”
The Soho store was designed around two basic principles, ‘looking and sounding great’.
On the visual side, it’s hard to go past the unique listening rooms that allow customers to trial products, unencumbered by the hustle and bustle of a normal retail environment in Manhattan.
“We decided we were only going to have seven fixtures in this store, where people could really demo our product and listen to and interact with our product,” said Walker. “I say it’s a bold move because most retail stores are geared to be able to serve lots of customers all at once and we made this very clear choice to constrain that, and the reason is we needed to able to create these tiny homes where someone could get a whole audio experience, really get that ultimate demo that we’re getting at a friends house.”
Each room has its own design identity, reflective of the individuality and diversity of people’s homes. From the quintessential New York apartment with river views on one side and the park on the other, to a room with an amalgamation of old wallpaper designs that harkens back to the city’s past, the listening homes provide a unique experience on their own.
As one would expect from a company that sells wi-fi connected speakers, the sound of the store was a prime focus.
Sonos pushed the quality of sound heard within the store “to the limit” but stopped short of what someone could realistically achieve in their own home.
“Half the surface area in the store absorbs or attenuates sound and the other half, like glass cement surfaces will just reflect sound, so it’s kind of the mirror of a very basic home environment because everyone has walls windows and rugs in their environment,” said Walker.
The store also features a 35ft wide and 30ft tall wall of speakers – affectionately dubbed the shrine of the Sonos store Taj Mahal. Though the store is visually impressive, Walker said customers often leave remarking about the quality of its staff.
“The reason that most people go to visit the store is to see the design, and how beautiful it is,” he said.
“But when people have visited the store, most come away talking about the staff – we worked almost as long on how we would recruit staff.”
Sonos have employed people with backgrounds in music, including sound engineers, in a nostalgic nod to generating the vibe of the old record store.
The store’s location in Soho was a no-brainer for the audio brand – with Soho steeped in the city’s music history.“Right across the street from the store used to be Greene St. Recording studios where Run DMC and a tonne of great rap artists from the 80s and 90s worked.”
Inside Retail joined 35,000 retail leaders from over 95 countries at this year’s show – where over 500 exhibitors, 300 speakers and over 70 educational sessions provided insights into what’s driving retail of today.
Keep an eye out for Inside Retail’s coverage of the NRF Big Show in New York online and in our weekly and quarterly magazines, featuring big name retailers Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Target, Kohl’s, Ikea, Target plus Sir Richard Branson’s insights and more.