Expert’s new concept means new challenges

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The future of the Expert chain in the Nordics can be found in Finland where the new concept has been rolled out this year.

”It’s improved the performance in our pilot store with 30-50 percent,” says Chief Operating Officer Ville Honkanen.

But the partnership with Stockmann requires a lot of customizations of the concept.

After a pilot in Turku last year, Expert Finland has opened four new stores this year with the new Nordic concept that also can be found in Norway and in the new Power-stores in Denmark. The Danish Power-concept uses different colours, but is in other parts the same.

The first up to date stores were launched in Itis (1100 sqm), in east Helsinki, and a 2000 sqm store in Tampere. And now three Stockmann-stores are added in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere (September).  Above this, four more stores are scheduled for this year. And next year Tampere will get its third new Expert store.

It’s black and it’s orange. And it’s a concept that Ville Honkanen is proud of, but emphazises that the main difference between Expert Finland and Expert AS’ other markets is the brand history.

”This last year I’ve learned a lot. We are moving in the right direction,” he says.

He points out five big differences from the old Expert:

  • The assortment, which is up to 3-4 times bigger – mainly within accessories and gadgets.
  • Mobile phone department is improved and has now 100 percent touch and feel-opportunities.
  • The new base colours of the store design, as black has replaced white.
  • One Nordic supplier for all furnitures and shelves instead of local supply.
  • The Nordic supply chain with a central warehouse in Skillingaryd, Sweden.

”The customer experience has improved a lot. It’s fresher, with a feeling of more products and with easier access to try them out.”

We also stand together in the first store in Finland with the electronic price tags. Ville Honkanen says they have worked out well and will be extended to more product categories.

”The number one benefit is that we always have the right price. One guy will set the price in all stores just by pushing a button.”

Expert’s previous presence in Helsinki’s city centre was a 200 square meter store – that has now been replaced by ten times larger premises with 6000 products for sale.

”We have the best location in Finland and in the Nordics – and we are very proud of it.”

Ville Honkanen says that, except for being the most visited department store in the Nordics – Stockmann has a high-end target group that Expert will benefit from. Next to the store on the same level is the grocery store Herkku and Alko which helps people find their way into Expert’s store.

Stockmann is a story of it’s own for Expert in Finland. It’s replaced Stockmann’s own department of consumer electronics and works as an integrated part of the department store. For the frequent Stockmann customer, it’s almost business as usual, since the store is…

  • Accepting Stockmann’s loyalty card with bonus points.
  • Participating in Stockmann’s monthly loyalty card offers.
  • Participating in the Crazy Days-campaigns.

Also the Itis store is connected to the Stockmann cooperation.

The assortment contains more high-end products than usual. And Ville Honkanen says the brand areas with special displays are integrated in the store and those partnerships partly chosen to fit the customer group.

”We don’t want it to be an exhibition for the suppliers.”

But the real store challenge at the Helsinki- branch comes with all entrances and exits, as four elevators and two escalators lead customers into the store together with three same level entrances. There are totally 7-8 places to enter the store and a cash register needed at every exit. This makes the store layout and customer flow some piece of work.

”I can tell you it wasn’t easy – and we are planning some improvements now that we’ve seen how it works.”

Then the ceiling is lower than usual, requiring lower shelves – and the basement spaces have a lot of pillars that literally stops the customer from entering product shelves in all directions.
Besides that, Stockmann requires that Expert have two-language signs.

”After the Tampere store, we are through with the Stockmann,” Ville Honkanen concludes. He says there is no deadline for when all stores will be converted, only that it will be done in ”high speed” and  that it is up to the franchise stores if they are prepared to do to the investment.

As Expert had problems in the rest of the Nordics, Finland has been a stable and profitable market for Norwegian Expert AS, who entered the country in 2007 and worked paralel to the independent merchant’s Expert-chain. But since a year ago, only Expert ASA Oy has the right to use the Expert brand.

With the new concept, the new warehouse and the Nordic approach for Expert’s operations, COO Ville Honkanen often comes to the word proud. He’s been with the chain since the 90’s.
”I am sure that we will be next year’s winner,” he says.

Comment:

It’s a fresh new look, where Expert is catching up and also in some areas put themselves in the front of store design. It’s got a strong position already in Finland, people are well aware of the brand. But it is also a move in another direction, in a category where price is the most important factor the store concept does not really signal low prices with the black base and how will the partnership with the premium department store Stockmann affect Expert’s image on this?

The city center location in Helsinki is a prestige location. But it will be hard to runt it in an efficient way, known as ”the basement” with entrances from all angles. Despite all the ways to get there, it is not very visible. The ”highway” from Herkku is more like the backdoor to the garage you need to be aware of to find and no signs tell you there is an Expert-store to find. An observation on a Saturday at lunch makes it very clear that the majority customer flow takes completely different directions without noticing Expert at all. New displays showing the way into Expert are said to be on their way.

In Finland’s largest mall, Itis, it is more of a prime location. But during an hour’s visit, the Expert store had the lowest number of  visitors and other competitors in the centre were obviously more attractive. Even the small Elisa-store had twice as many customer.

This short observations are sure not to be taken for a definitive truth, but it gives a clue that Expert has some more work to do before calling their new approach for a success.