Is Barnes & Noble's new concept store the answer to its woes?
Barnes & Noble rolled out the latest in a series of new store concepts at Mellody Farm in Vernon Hills, Illinois last week. The 17,400 square-foot-store "will combine the best of what we've learned from our other new stores," Carl Hauch, Barnes & Noble vice president of stores, said in a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
The new store will feature an assortment of books, educational toys and games, puzzles and gifts alongside two new 360 "book theaters." The kids section also features a Lego activity table.
The store, like many others, features a Starbucks cafe (offering coffee, pastries and sandwiches) as well as a dining seating area, work tables and plenty of "informal spots to settle in with a cup of coffee and a good book," according to the company.
It's a challenging time to be a big-box book seller. In fact, in the wake of Barnes & Noble's announcement to consider a sale of the business, many industry experts are questioning whether the model can amount to anything but a steady decline as more customers flock to the convenience of Amazon (digitally and physically) and the charm of independent bookstores. In some small ways, this new concept shop takes aim at both of these competitive forces.
One way to do that is by focusing on social interaction — something Amazon can't compete with. "Community is a key thing we are seeing that people are desiring, so a sense of you know if you have interest in a given piece of content, why not connect with people in that community that have that similar interest?" Matt Sargent, SVP of retail at consulting firm Magid, told Retail Dive in an interview.
Fostering "discovery" is another way to drive foot traffic, Sargent said, especially for nostalgic parents who may be concerned about their digitally focused children. "The fact that they are including food and comfortable chairs I think that really brings it to a point that people are looking for that experience that is more than just a product," he said. "It fits into that community aspect."
Leveraging the Starbucks brand is another plus, he added. However, coffee may be one thing and the food business another, as the company has struggled with a recent concept store that integrates restaurants. "It's a lot harder than you think it is," Barnes & Noble founder Leonard Riggio said on a recent conference call about its five operational restaurants. "The top line on the restaurant is good. The bottom line is awful."
The new concept checks a few boxes on a list detailing what Barnes & Noble needs to do to win, published on Linkedin this summer by former Borders CEO Mike Edwards. The store takes one step toward tackling Barnes & Noble's sprawling store fleet problem as well as toward mixing up its cafe experience. "Overall it appears to be a smaller [Barnes & Noble] with a more contemporary feel that could appeal to a young demographic," he said in an email to Retail Dive. "It will take time to convert the chain to a smaller concept but longer term it is what needs to happen."
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