Best Buy, the last national electronics chain, is counting on these advisors to distinguish it from Amazon.com Inc., the company's competitor, partner, and would-be vanquisher. With more than 1,000 big-box stores in North America and about 125,000 employees, Best Buy was supposed to have succumbed to the inevitable. "Everyone thought we were going to die," says Hubert Joly, who was hired as chief executive officer in August 2012 after profits shrunk about 90 percent in one quarter and his predecessor resigned amid an investigation into his relationship with an employee.

Instead, Best Buy has become an improbable survivor led by an unlikely boss. Joly was raised and educated in France, trained at McKinsey & Co., and previously employed by hospitality company Carlson, based outside Minneapolis, and media conglomerate Vivendi SA, where he greenlighted a little game called World of Warcraft. He's the first outside CEO in the chain's 52-year history. He had no retail experience--Best Buy's stock fell 10 percent the day he was named CEO--but Joly understands how to value, and capture, customers' time. Comparable sales rose 5.6 percent last year and 9 percent during the Christmas season, the biggest holiday gain since 2003. The stock price has quadrupled. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is impressed. "The last five years, since Hubert came to Best Buy, have been remarkable," he said at an appearance in April.

Those years were about getting people into Best Buy stores and onto its website; Best Buy's future will be about getting its people into homes.


There is, of course, one thing Best Buy has that Amazon doesn't: more than 1,000 big-box stores. Joly saw the benefit of using them as showrooms--a word so fraught in retail that the company calls them showcases--for the big tech brands, Amazon included. Best Buy was among the first chains to feature Apple boutiques. In April 2013, Joly said there would be Samsung mini-shops in its 1,400 U.S. locations by June. That same month, Best Buy began adding 600 Microsoft stores-within-stores. Sony arrived in 2014. Last year, Best Buy turned over more space to Amazon and Google to better display their smart home technologies. The two are bitter rivals: Amazon doesn't sell Google Home and offers a limited selection of Google's Nest products. Best Buy is neutral ground.

The brands essentially pay rent to Best Buy (it's cheaper than building stores) and either send in their own salespeople or train the blue shirts. No one at Best Buy would offer details about these partnerships. But even analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities Inc., who in almost 10 years has never recommended buying Best Buy's stock, describes the partnerships as a phenomenal success because they ease the financial burden of operating stores while enhancing profit margins. "Best Buy is like an arms dealer," he says. "They're indifferent to what brand you buy as long as you buy it from them."

Comments: Be the first to add a comment

add a comment | go to forum thread