Brookstone started operations in 1965 and today has more than 200 retail stores in the United States and Puerto Rico, located in shopping malls, lifestyle centers and airports. But, in 2014, the company went through bankruptcy before being acquired by the Sanpower Group, a Nanjing-based conglomerate, which tapped Via to resurrect it.
“I was to turn it around and expand it both domestically and globally,” he recalls. Via had experience with other major retail chains, including Toys”R”Us in Canada and Australia, and Babies”R”Us in the United States.
When Via arrived at Brookstone, his initiatives included a multi-tiered plan for the business that would set the table for a “new Brookstone.” “The strategy itself started with product and innovation, which is really what Brookstone is all about,” he declares.
The company celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, making it the perfect time to “dig into the product ranges, the innovation and newness that we bring to the market,” Via says. “[We also had to] establish what Brookstone is going to stand for as we go into the next decade.”
This included looking at how the company could improve its innovation pipeline, “which is really where our merchandising starts looking at the marketplace,” Via says. “We’ve been in talks with the crowd-funding arena [about] how we access their leverage to inventors and develop partnerships so we ultimately bring those [products to] market at Brookstone.”
The company has developed “Launched at Brookstone,” a venue for new products from inventors and other sources. With the use of its own lab, “We can take any idea, start the launch process here, then take it overseas to our manufacturing environment for production and ultimately bring products to market,” Via says.
One partner for the company is Fitbit Inc., which offers watches that can measure its wearers’ heart rates and count the number of steps they take. “We were one of the first retailers that shipped this great product,” Via says.
Expanding Its Horizons
Via’s strategy also includes e-commerce and omnichannel retailing, which are areas “where Brookstone has great potential,” he says. Although the company had maintained a website for many years, it has room to grow.
“We have a very robust e-commerce business, but it’s very much ‘buy online and we’ll ship to your home,’” Via says. “We have to expand our horizons and allow the customers to shop however they want.”
Although Brookstone customers do not have the ability to buy products on its website and pick them up in stores, “We’ll have that in 2016,” he predicts. “The long-term goal … is to become an omnichannel retailer.”
Year of the Customer
Via also performed research on Brookstone’s client base. “I needed to know a little more about them,” he recalls. “It allowed us to build the company and merchandising strategies as an offshoot of that research.”
The company found that it has a significant number of shoppers under the age of 35. “That’s pleasing and promising for our business,” Via says. “Every retailer strives to have those younger customers.”
Brookstone also established “a customer-championing” committee so it could identify points where it could make shoppers’ lives easier.
“We’ve chosen to make 2015 the year of the customer at Brookstone,” Via declares.
The company also is evaluating its call center practices to ensure “we’re providing top-notch service [and the] information that our customer is calling for,” he says. “Often, that’s for more product knowledge.”
At the Core
Via’s strategy also includes fixing Brookstone’s core. “That really relates to technology and where we are,” he describes. “We’ve done a very deep dive into all the technology aspects of business, systems, procedures and analytics.”
Additionally, Brookstone needed to raise its financial acumen. “We’ve established a business intelligence team that’s allowing us to use both big data as well as other analytics techniques to be more focused and fact based in our decision making,” Via explains. “We needed to bring an elevated level of analytics in the business. The environment that we as retailers compete in today requires that we operate with precision.”
Via’s approach has worked well for Brookstone. “I’m pretty pleased with the progress,” he reports. “We’ve begun to fill the product pipeline, [and] we’re in test-and-learn mode now with some new things.”
“So far this year, we’re ahead of our plans and we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor,” he says. “I’m very proud of the team we’ve attracted here at the leadership level.”
He adds that the company has successfully moved into the wholesale arena with clients that include Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. “We have proven that the Brookstone brand can sell well in other environments,” he says. “We’re excited about what we see for the potential of our wholesale business not only domestically, but internationally.”
He sees more growth ahead for the company. “Once we get this omnichannel piece figured out, that’s going to be a booster to our brick-and-mortar business in the United States,” he predicts.
“The synergy of all these strategies coming together is going to lift this brand up,” he says. “Innovation and products are really the heartbeat of everything that we’re doing. This is a great time for me and anyone else to be at Brookstone.”
He sees more growth ahead for certain products, including drones. “Brookstone has a market-leading position in drones, and we’re going to continue [growth in that] space,” he says, noting that he also sees potential in robotics.
“Part of the Brookstone legacy is to have cool tech gadgets,” he says, noting that he is looking for products with an app aspect. “There’s got to be a current, cool factor to bring it into Brookstone.”