Good Timing

Time Warner Cable’s Manhattan flagship presents tech merchandising with a dash of human interaction
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Posted June 16, 2014

Fluorescent lights, plastic chairs and a number dispenser. This waking nightmare is only described by one dreaded acronym: the DMV. Everyone bemoans their X-yearly license renewal – imagine being there monthly. That’s how Time Warner Cable (New York) customers felt not long ago, when its payment centers housed a similar model – take a number, wait your turn, speak your piece.

Born from a three-company merger in 1989, the cable giant has a long history of name changes and acquisitions. As of 2014, it provides Internet access to 66.9 million people and services 29 states.

And though a household name, being a service retailer meant store design wasn’t high priority.

“These payment centers [were] utilitarian; people came to pay bills and exchange equipment. In fact, some of the spaces had bulletproof glass, keeping customers away from staff. Time Warner Cable’s initiative was to break down those barriers,” says Bruce Edwards, evp/chief creative officer of Fame (Minneapolis), the branding agency tasked with its renovations.

The corporation chose a historic, 14,000-square-foot 23rd Street space in New York’s Flatiron District. Once a Castro Convertible furniture showroom, this landmark building required the usual hoop jumping: permission for interior modifications and no façade alterations, among others. 

Now, instead of waiting aimlessly, customers enter a queuing system by signing in on a tablet. Several interactive areas greet visitors in the open space, including an oversized 90-inch functional tablet that provides information about free apps.

At the central Learning Bar, customers build and purchase cable and Internet service packages on mounted tablets, while nearby seating fosters passive engagement. When someone starts interacting with a display, “it runs a demo, the sound system kicks on and anyone in that radius looks,” says Scott McKeen, senior director of retail development, Time Warner Cable. “Now you have five, ten or twenty people’s eyes on this screen.” 

Queuing screens are further back in the space near specific destinations, encouraging exploration. To decrease the divide between staff and customer, hard, straight counters are now numbered rep stations.

With all these parts combined, customers now wait an average of 4 minutes versus 20.

Human interaction keeps a balance, too: Customers are called verbally to stations by representatives, while the Learning Bar has enough space in its middle for a rep to stand and guide customers on mounted tablets.

“Customers aren’t always comfortable jumping in and touching [technology],” McKeen says. “We’re constantly thinking: How can we put something on-screen that’s going to draw them in? A lot of our engagement ends up being rep-driven and that’s completely OK. We’re trying to find the right balance of both rep-driven engagement and self-discovery.”

Of course, tech-laden retailers like AT&T in Chicago already feature big screens and tablets, but this is different. As McKeen explains, it’s still a service-based store. “It’s like a branded house versus a house of brands,” Lynne Robertson, president/ceo of Fame, says.

And this branded house is pulled together with contemporary materials: wood floors, quartz countertops and exposed brick, meant to play up the industrial, historic vision within the building, according to McKeen.

Wood jumps from floor to ceiling visually designating interactive areas and is interrupted by ceiling tile highlighting the Learning Bar.

Cable boxes and remotes are housed in back instead of on countertops – a “shoe store model,” McKeen says – creating a clean look.

“When people walk into these transformed stores, they immediately have a more positive experience about the brand,” Robertson says. “Those old stores were physically uncomfortable, aesthetically awful and customers didn’t feel taken care of. The hospitality and graciousness of this design makes people feel better about Time Warner Cable.” 

PROJECT SUPPLIERS

Retailer
Time Warner Cable, New York

Design
Fame, Minneapolis

Digital Content
Reality Interactive, Middletown, Conn.

Queuing System
Q-Matic, Duluth, Ga.

Architect
Ware Malcomb, Irvine, Calif.

General Contractor
Gold Coast Construction, New York

Ceilings and Flooring
Armstrong, Lancaster, Pa.

Fixtures
Randal Retail Group, Batavia, Ill.

Furniture
Commercial Services Group, division of Sam Clar Office Furniture, Concord, Calif.

Signage/Graphics
Going Sign & Servicing Co. Inc., Plainview, N.Y.