Bell Canada has put up its shingle on what could be the first of several retail stores aimed specifically at business, rather than consumer, users of its communications technology and services.
The store, located in Toronto’s financial district at BCE place on Bay Street, includes meeting rooms for “lunch and learn” events and takes up 1,400 sq. ft. It is Bell’s 400th store in the Canadian market.
Much like Rogers Communications, which also opened a store focused on wireless technologies in the Bay Street area a few years ago, Bell is trying to create a showcase for a wide range of products that could be used by business decision-makers. Nerrj Sharma, vice-president of corporate stores at Bell Canada, said the store will primarily be aimed at small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers, but the carrier is hoping enterprise executives will stop by too.
“We could get anyone from a CIO to a CTO to someone lower in the food chain,” said Sharma. “There’s no other place or environment where you can go to get hands-on access to next-generation solutions like this. . . . We felt that the business segment deserves to have a place where their particular needs are well understood.”
Although the store will also carry some consumer products like wireless phones and its ExpressVu satellite service, the focus of the store will be to set up live examples of vertically-oriented applications. These could include a mobile office set up with devices like a BlackBerry, Treo or other handhelds, as well as location-based services like MyFinder, which pinpoints a user’s device within Bell’s network coverage area.
The store will employ a permanent staff of about three to five people who were hand-picked from Bell World stores based on their level of product expertise and cross-trained on business products. Bell will also bring in outside sales staff as needed to work with business clients, Sharma said.
“(Staffing) wasn’t very difficult. In our embedded employee base, we had a number that were well-suited for this opportunity,” he said.
Jim Okamura, an analyst with the J.C. Williams Group based in Chicago, said Costco and Staples Business Depot have tried to appeal to business users, but primarily at the SOHO level. Bell’s approach to draw SMBs and enterprise executives is much more broad, he said.
“I’m sure they’re not counting on a lot of CIOs of big corporations doing that, because they’re more interested in customized solutions,” he said. “It’s just really a living showroom, that just happens to be a in retail space.”
Sharma said Bell will take some time to evaluate the store’s success before it opens any others.
“With business, it can be a longer sales cycle, and that’s something where we have to work directly with a company,” he said. “Quarter-ends, year-ends always come into play. We have to manage that within the store environment.”