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January 27, 2011

Panbo: Geek Squad, the biggest marine electronics installer?

An entry from Ben Ellison's Marine Electronics Weblog
 

While the currently advertised marine services sound modest, the Geek Squad has major ambitions regarding the marine electronics installation business.  To be more specific, they hope to eventually have installers based at some 450-500 Best Buy stores which are within 50 miles of fresh or salt waters that harbor significant numbers of registered boats.  And while the idea started with stereos in trailer boats, the Geeks are gearing up for a full assortment of electronics and boats of most any size.  I learned this and lots more because a Bonnier Marine Group editorial colleague shared a lengthy interview he did with Ben Wells, who's been working on the project for three years in Southwest Florida...

In fact, the marine installation program started there as a local initiative, got embraced by corporate, now includes 38 stores from Mobile to Palm Beach, and is expanding in all possible directions.  What's unusual about it, besides the potential size, is fixed pricing, just as the Geek Squad does with various computer, home theater, and automobile services (as illustrated with the car video install below).  Wells says that they currently have a menu of 27  marine services which they've done time studies on, and, while they know that "construction techniques change across brands and even within brands from year to year" -- so true! -- they'll stick with their pricing no matter what, and they'll "never rush through a job."  Travel to the job is also flat rate, at $99 within 40 miles, and, at least for now, an initial on-board consultation is free (they're not sure they can keep up with demand).

So do these Geeks know what they're doing?  Well, it certainly seems like Best Buy is taking a methodical approach, what with the multi-year roll out, lots of customer feedback, and extensive ABYC and NMEA training.  Ed Sherman, who's doing at least some of the teaching for ABYC, enthused about BB's service attitude last summer and continues to be impressed with the GS techs.  I have no experience with the Geek Squad myself, and haven't been in the stores much (none close), but I'm impressed with some of the online resources, which often manage to be both informative and funny (check the Tech101: Tablets & Friends video, now on the home page, for instance).

Incidentally, while you don't have to buy electronics at Best Buy to use the Geek Squad, the stores will be increasing their selections, and according to Wells they "can get pretty much any piece of equipment within 72 hours" anyway.  So would I be depressed if I was a marine electronics dealer/installer anywhere near a Best Buy. You betcha!  But Wells talks about the significant customer dissatisfaction they've detected in their surveying, the pend-up demand caused by fear of unknown installation costs and hassles, and the merits of increased competition.  I think his points are valid, and that he may well be right when he concluded that "if we do this correctly, Best Buy has the ability to be a game changer where the customer winds up winning, and the industry ends up growing as a result."