Back in the spring, rumors buzzed about Missoula's Southgate Mall landing an Apple Store. The rumors, it turned out, were wrong—but barely. Instead, Vann's, the Missoula-based electronics and appliance retailer, has opened The ON Store, a pseudo Apple Store the company hopes will fill a niche in smaller markets where Apple seldom treads.
On Black Friday, many got their first look at The ON Store, which clearly mimicked Apple's distinct brand of tech chic. Shoppers mulled around cocktail table-like product displays, fingering iPads and iPods and mousing around iMacs.
Vann's Marketing Manager Matt Ranta acknowledges the resemblance to an Apple Store.
"Obviously a fair comparison there," he says, "and there's definitely some inspiration that was drawn from that."
But Ranta is quick to point out that ON's strength lies in not being limited to Apple products alone.
"We have a unique ability to add in a larger variety of products because of our relationship with other manufacturers," he says. "We can bring in the best of the best in all of those product lines. We have things like the Boxee Box, Sony's newest Google TVs, 3D gaming...Those are technologies everybody wants to see."
Vann's hope is that The ON Store's business model will be transferable to other similar-sized markets. Ranta says Vann's has been conducting market research "for quite a while" to pinpoint potential locations, but nothing is nailed down.
"There's a lot of desire for those same products to be available in a market the size of Missoula with demographics like what Missoula has to offer," Ranta says. "Even though some place like Southgate Mall sees eight million visitors a year, it's still not enough of a significant amount of traffic to draw an Apple Store. So there's definitely a tier of locations that could benefit from a store such as ON that would fall out of the purview of an Apple Store."
The ON Store's "soft opening" took place Nov. 19. Its grand opening celebration is scheduled for Dec. 2-6, and will feature a live DJ, a visit from the founder of Monster Cable, and a performance Friday night by the band N3W Era.