Natural Foods Merchandiser

Best Buy To Open Wellness Store

Best Buy plans to take a chance on the wellness business, hoping to attract middle-aged women who don?t often venture into its yellow-and-blue bedecked stores for laptops or movies.

The Richfield, Minn.-based chain, which operates 780 Best Buy and FutureShop stores in the United States and Canada, has leased an 18,000-square-foot store in suburban Minneapolis to test the new concept, called EQ-Life. It?s due to open early next year.

Best Buy did not return calls by press time. The Business Journal of Minneapolis/St. Paul, which broke the story Oct. 4, said the target audience was ?mature women? older than 45.

Best Buy spokeswoman Sue Lee told the Minneapolis Star Tribune Oct. 5 that the new store will feature nutritional supplements, personal care products and exercise items. It will include a pharmacy and a salon offering spa and beauty services. A range of electronics and entertainment products that fit the concept, such as personal stereos and fitness DVDs, will also be offered.

Its partners in the venture include Park Nicollet Health Services, a Minneapolis-based health-care company that will train employees and consult on product selection, and PrairieStone Pharmacy, also based in the Twin Cities.

Some observers wondered what Best Buy is thinking, going into a category about which it knows nothing and in which competition is intense, ranging from discounters to natural grocers, sporting goods stores, specialty retailers such as The Sharper Image and fitness centers like Curves for Women.

?I concur that they are insane. You can quote me,? said Tom Aarts, co-founder and executive editor of Nutrition Business Journal in San Diego.

But other retail observers are less skeptical.

?My first reaction is a whopping disconnect between health/wellness/spa and Best Buy—home of gigantic TVs and limited and highly mixed sales staff,? said natural products retail consultant Bob Burke of Andover, Mass.

But, Burke said, Best Buy execs could be looking for ways to marry their core strength—specialty retailing—with baby boomers? trend toward health and fitness. ?There is a continuum from entertainment to leisure activities to relaxing to stress reduction to spa.?

Mike Marolt, a former senior executive for Best Buy, heads the new chain, spokeswoman Lee told the Star Tribune.

Research analyst Tracy Tsai, who follows Best Buy for the Wall Street firm Citigroup Smith Barney, said the company unveiled a new initiative last May called ?Customer Centricity.? Using location-specific consumer research, ?They?re trying to target stores to specific demographics,? changing the products, services, store layout and appearance, Tsai said. One of the targets is the ?busy suburban mom,? who has felt ignored or confused in Best Buy stores in the past.

?Will it be believable to women in Minneapolis? Don?t know, have not seen the research,? said Maryellen Molyneaux, president of The Natural Marketing Institute in Harleysville, Pa. ?But the research has to address more than demographics. It must investigate their lifestyle and shopping habits as well as the specific product usage.?

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXV/number 11/p. 1

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