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Tweeter prototype revs up service

A concierge in a tourist area giving out maps isn't unusual. A concierge at an electronics store is.

Yet a concierge will be the new face on the new look of Tweeter Home Entertainment, the Massachusetts company that owns Sound Advice in Florida and will be renaming those stores to Tweeter over the next two years.

Here in Las Vegas, in advance of the International Consumer Electronics Show, Tweeter unveiled a prototype of its "house within a store" concept the company hopes will change the way consumers shop for home electronics. And, as the concierge makes clear, this is like no other electronics store people are accustomed to.

Customers who want to browse will get a map that looks more like the floor plan of a house than a traditional electronics warehouse guide that simply lists where to find various departments.

Or they can choose to have "entertainment architects," no mere untrained sales reps, demonstrate room by room a variety of high-end electronic options, from high-definition TVs to remote controls that handle audio, video, lighting and just about everything electronic.

The architects also will help customers design and install their electronic dreams and teach them how to use the system as part of the deal.

The prototype store opens Jan. 17, and a second location in the Las Vegas area will follow in about four months.

Chain executives would not say when, or if, similar stores would open elsewhere, but predicted at least parts of the concept would show up at other outlets over time.

"The Las Vegas store represents the future of the Tweeter brand," Jeffrey Stone, president and chief executive of the Tweeter Home Entertainment Group, said in a statement.

Dave Tovissi, director of custom installation, figures the chain will need six months to assess what works and what needs tweaking in the new store presentation. Executives said it cost more to open the prototype than a regular store but called the premium insignificant. They would not give specific figures.

Tweeter operates 176 stores in 21 states under an assortment of names and has said it will rebrand all of them under the Tweeter name over the next two years. The publicly traded company had annual revenues of about $778-million for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Las Vegas was chosen for the prototypes because the chain did not have a presence in that market and wanted to gauge response from people not familiar with the brand.

The store is aiming at a traditional electronics market, men 35 to 45 who are enthusiasts about audio, video and sports. But it's also hoping to attract women, who are playing an increasingly important role in electronic purchases.

And there's no place like home to make people feel comfortable about the purchasing process.

The store offers many of the familiar names in electronics, including Sony, Philips and Samsung, as well as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. The chain also has partners who make cabinets, furniture and other custom equipment needed for any system.

But the equipment is not what makes the store unique. It's how Tweeter has put together the concept, room by room, to show how it all works together.

Some of the staff has been recruited from other chain stores around the country, while others will be trained from the ground up. The entertainment architect title will have to be earned by sales associates, who will have to pass tests to show proficiency.

A design center in the middle of the 7,500-square-foot showroom lets the staff and customers work with blueprints to ensure every detail is just right, and an office for consultations is called the Collaboratorium.

Dave Gussow can be reached at gussowsptimes.com or (727) 771-4328.

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