Suburban consumers will have a strong impact on what types of products and services will be available at AT&T stores nationwide starting Saturday.
That's when the first and only AT&T Innovation Center opens at 585 E. Palatine Road in Arlington Heights.
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The former Gap store underwent renovations and now offers about 10,400 square feet of products and services, many not found at other AT&T stores. At least not yet. Those that become the most popular eventually will roll out to other stores nationwide, said St. Charles resident David Fine, AT&T vice president and general manager of consumer mobility in Illinois and Wisconsin.
And to sweeten the high-tech pot, this center will offer a free Motorola Atrix 2 with a two-year service agreement for its grand opening starting Saturday.
"We're doing more than 'rethinking possible,'" said Fine, referring to the company's tag line. "We've brought possible here now and made it fast and friendly."
About 1½ years ago, Fine and other AT&T executives scouted locations and decided to lease the stand-alone spot fronting a shopping strip and nearby Verizon Wireless store.
"There's room for everybody," Fine joked.
AT&T brought together some concepts available at its experience store in Oak Brook and other features to create the Innovation Center, which is more than twice the size of an AT&T store, he said.
As consumers walk in, they'll be greeted by a concierge, who will add their names to a queue for service. They'll see three large round tables in the middle of the center. One table features gaming, including the Hotspot Elevate 4G, the Sony Ericsson Xperia and other devices; another table offers various devices and how they work with cloud computing; and then there are iHome accessories, such as speakers and the Jawbone Jambox, among others.
The walls are lined with phones and accessories, while other tables offer space to learn how to use them. Giant touch screens on the back walls also offer a chance to learn about devices or see the differences in network speeds of AT&T's 4G LTE (long-term evolution) compared to competitors.
Another area of the center offers service as well as a small-business center. AT&T also plans an experience room that could open by January to allow a full experience when trying out the gaming or other devices.
Providing an interactive environment with more expertise allows consumers to make educated decisions when buying wireless products and services. Such models used by other industries have been successful, said Anne Brouwer, senior partner and retail consultant at McMillan/Doolittle LLP in Chicago.
"Retail stores like Apple, Sephora and those offered by home improvement stores all offer a chance for the consumer to directly engage with them," said Brouwer.
The center has twice the number of workers to provide guidance, training and sales. So far, 38 workers will start and more are expected to be hired, Fine said.
While the center is somewhat reflective of Apple stores, AT&T aims to compete and stay fresh in the wireless industry.
"It's a one-stop shop for everybody," Fine said.