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Best Buy's Marc Spence

Head of entertainment talks pre-owned, competition and USPs ahead of the opening of first UK store

After 12 months at the planning stage, the UK's first Best Buy store opens tomorrow in Thurrock, Essex, standing in the shadow of Lakeside shopping centre and amidst a sprawl of out-of-town retail competition. The chain had promised gaming would be a prominent category and its flagship store certainly doesn't disappoint. A dedicated games room - which lets staff give personalised demonstration of hardware and games - is housed separate to a vast games section, while console demo pods are replaced by TVs and consoles in spaces with more than enough room to swing several Wii controllers.

Product space is equally expansive with a wide range of both new and pre-owned games on the shelves. Ahead of the doors opening on the new retail offering, GamesIndustry.biz spoke to the retailer's head of entertainment, Marc Spence - formerly MD of GAME Europe, and buying director for DSG - about competitors, digital plans and selling pre-owned product.

GamesIndustry.biz So this is the first Best Buy store to open in the UK. Why was the decision made to open in Essex and what's the plan now going forward?
Marc Spence

Going forward we've openly stated that we're looking to open between 8-10 stores this year with 70ish stores over five years. Thurrock, if you look around at the retail park here and across the road is one of the most premier parks in the UK. You've got Marks & Spencer, you've got Tesco, you've got Toys R Us, PC World - it's a premier park. And we wanted a large environment to open our first store.

GamesIndustry.biz You're also surrounded by competitors. There's a Comet directly opposite...
Marc Spence

Yes, we're got Comet across there, we've got Curry's around the corner, PC World, Toys R Us, we've got Asda and that has entertainment products as well and there's Tesco Extra, so we've got the majority of competitors in the park itself. Thurrock shopping centre is walking distance from here and that also has GAME, HMV etc. So I think we have all of our competitors right beside us here.

GamesIndustry.biz So what's the unique selling point that Best Buy has in order to compete with all of that?
Marc Spence

I think from a gaming perspective the interactive element is a huge differentiator for us to our competitors. And that is something we expect will drive people here to look at new product. We have a competitive range that is bigger than the majority in this space. We've got knowledgeable people, we've brought on board staff that have been through a nine week training programme - the Blue Shirt academy - but we're also got people who are passionate gamers, enthusiastic about the categories that they sell. Our product knowledge is superior to most.

We obviously stock all of the hardware formats as well so this is, in effect, a one-stop shop. We sell hardware and software - the majority of our competitors sell one or the other.

GamesIndustry.biz You do have a very wide range of games. So, unlike perhaps stores such as Dixons, you're really trying to go up against the specialist retailers here as opposed to just selling games as an add-on?
Marc Spence

Most definitely. Gaming for Best Buy is not an add-on. It's an integral part of the Best Buy business, so it's not just on the peripheral. It's absolutely fundamental to what we do. We do see ourselves as a specialist in that sense. So yes, we do believe we can go head-to-head with the best in this market space. As you can see, we've given the space to it, we've got the range, we will be competitive on price, we have pre-owned and we've got pre-owned that can be offset against anything else in the store, not just on gaming. So again, a differentiating factor. We have got dedicated Blue Shirts working on entertainment, you will find people at all times within entertainment. It's not going to be self-service - there will be people there to help you.

In our gaming room we've got people who can take you through the whole process and sell you a proposition - a solution. Not just an Xbox, but an actual solution to get online. That might just be an Xbox plus accessories or it might be an Xbox, accessories and a Sky or Virgin contract. We can do that whole solution for you - again something the majority can't do. That's why we believe we can go head-to-head with anybody in this space.

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