Sonos is going retail in 2016: The consumer electronics company will open a flagship store in New York’s SoHo district this year, showing off its Internet-connected loudspeakers on 3000 square feet of store space.
The first-ever Sonos store is located at 101 Green Street, across from American Apparel and just half a block from an Apple store. It’s a prime retail location. But for the company, the store could be the beginning of much more: On its search for the perfect retail space, Sonos surveyed dozens of hip and luxury shopping destinations across the country, suggesting that it may not be content with a single storefront for too long. Information posted on Linkedin meanwhile reveals that Sonos may also be considering a retail presence in China.
Work on the Sonos retail store has progressed quietly, with only a few local bloggers and real estate sites taking notice late last year. But Sonos has been working on the store for around half a year. A few months ago, the company commissioned award-winning illustrator Mark Stamaty to pen what he described as “drawings of musicians and other activity in SoHo Street scenes,” which have been covering the windows of the store, hiding everything that’s going on in the inside from curious eyes.
There’s no word on when the store exactly is going to open; a Sonos spokesperson only told Variety that doors will open “in 2016.” Recent job offers suggest that the opening may still be another three to four months away. In one of those job postings, the company describes the reason for opening a store this way:
“Nothing brings the power of Sonos to life like a mind-blowing, hands-on demo. It’s by far the most inspiring way to showcase our amazingly integrated listening experience and help guests quickly grasp what Sonos can bring to their homes and their lives. This is what the store is designed to deliver.”
However, as a flagship store, this retail location isn’t just about selling speakers to consumers. It’s also about marketing the company itself to “store guests and visitors representing the music industry or other Sonos partners,” as another job offer puts it. And of course it’s a training ground for further retail expansions. The job offer continues:
“Longer term you’ll play a major role in our overall direct-to-consumer strategy across the globe. While managing the daily operations of the store and your team, you’ll be working out what’s next for Sonos specifically in the direct-to-consumer space.”
To get an idea of how a Sonos retail strategy could look like, one has to look no further than to its original scouting for the New York storefront. Sonos scoured shopping areas and malls across the U.S. before it settled on its current SoHo address. A map produced during this process identifies the Grove in Los Angeles, the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, the Grand Canal Shoppes in Las Vegas, the South Center Mall in Seattle and Wall Street in New York as possible retail locations.
The company’s recent hires also suggest ambitious retail plans. In June, it hired its new Chief Marketing Officer Joy Howard away from outdoor wear retailer Patagonia. In November, Patagonia’s Executive Creative Director Dmitri Siegel followed her to become Global VP/GM of Direct to Consumer at Sonos, where he is in charge of retail efforts, amongst other things. And in August, the company hired real estate developer Tony DeAngelo to further its retail ambitions.
Interestingly, DeAngelo describes his job on Linkedin this way: “Management of Retail Store Construction & Project Development Lead for retail locations in the USA and China.”
China as a possible international target for a retail presence actually makes a lot of sense for Sonos. The company has a longstanding partnership with social networking giant Tencent in China, and it may be able to capitalize on its brand power in the country in the same way that Apple has done.
Speaking of Apple: Going retail could help Sonos build out its brand and remain market leader much in the same way Apple has done with its retail force. Internet-connected loudspeakers are the logical next product to buy for millions of consumers switching from music downloads to subscription services, and an in-store demonstration could help to clearly show the benefits of a Sonos-like device over a cheap Bluetooth speaker.
However, Internet-connected loudspeakers are also starting to get commoditized, as big companies like Google are striking alliances with a multitude of manufacturers to establish their own platforms, and cheap devices like the $35 Chromecast Audio adapter promise to deliver similar functionality as a somewhat pricier Sonos speaker.
In that context, targeting consumers with premium retail outlets is the logical next step for Sonos, and the store in SoHo likely just the beginning of a much bigger play.