o2’s Workshop concept store is very, very promising

This afternoon I needed to buy a decent tripod for the video camera. I left the old-old tripod in some hotel, somewhere on the planet — deliberately, as it was getting too clunky and too annoying. I bought a new one but negated to recognise that it didn’t work very well for stand-up interviewing. It just wasn’t tall enough.

So on the way over to Euston Station I stopped off at Goodge Street and walked down Tottenham Court road to find a suitable a new tripod.

As I walked, I came across an o2 store. They’re obviously ten-a-penny in London but this one looked rather big.

But there was more.

My attention was caught my the sign on the window, pointing downstairs, that said, “The latest perk or a quiet place to work?”


I read on.

“A space to relax or advice about apps?”

I saw another big sign indicating that the “Workshop” was downstairs in the basement (the ground floor of the shop is a standard o2 shop).

A place to work, I thought? Like a hot desk? I looked down into the basement from outside the shop and so a few folk working at funky looking desks. I saw people milling about with what looked like cappuccinos.

Laden with a ton of film equipment baggage (including the new tripod) I popped into the store later on. I had a look about the normal shop and admired the BlackBerry 9900 (free on £37/month for 24 months by the way). A chap called Karl asked me if I needed any help.

“Actually,” I said, “What’s the workshop all about?”

I was expecting a mumbled 5-word explanation given the fact I wasn’t actually aiming to buy a contract there-and-then. You know what most sales executives are like.

Turns out Karl was rather well informed.

“Why don’t you pop down and have a look around?” he asked.

I nodded and we walked downstairs. I have to say I was impressed. Karl pointed out the hotdesk-ish area with helpful powerpoints and free WiFi. Knowing o2, I trust it’ll be super-fast.

I saw some tea/coffee making facilities.

I saw more folk working away on MacBooks (I should hope so).

I saw a genius bar (a la Apple). If you’ve any questions whatsoever, you can rock up there and one of the o2 Gurus will sort you out.

I saw private pods to the back of the store — most of them in use. Karl explained that this is where you can go to discuss your requirements. So if you’re looking for a contract (and, you know, to do some proper business with o2), you don’t have to stand in the busy consumer store discussing stuff. You can sit down and take your time about it. I watched as one lady animatedly pointed back and forth to a screen within her pod, whilst the sales chap nodded away. I bet they’re doing a lot of business this way. I felt like changing my primary deal away from Vodafone to o2. 60 seconds and I was already nodding away with delight.

“And this is our training room area,” said Karl, motioning toward a glass meeting area, filled with chairs, tables and screens. Companies are being encouraged to hold workshops there — very similar to the Apple mini lecture theatres you might have seen in some of their bigger stores.

Indeed there was a lot of ‘Apple’ going on around the place — white walls, clean lines, nice decor. This is no bad thing. It didn’t look like a copy of an Apple Store. It looked better, I thought.

I wasn’t too clear on whether I could just drop in and start working though. Clearly it was possible. But I think the intent behind the hotdesks is that you might get stuck into some work whilst you’re waiting to see a Guru, or a sales assistant. I don’t think they’re designed for you to arrive at 9am and leave at 5pm. You can apparently book meeting rooms though. And that’s rather interesting.

Indeed the whole thing is flipping exciting.

I don’t know the whole story yet. All I’ve got is a bit of an intro from Karl — 2 minutes worth of ‘oh, nice’ — and a story I found via Mobile News. I didn’t want to impose on Karl or the team there unannounced. I’ll need to do some more research.

What I find exciting is that this is true innovation. It’s proof of the operator recognising that the basic stuff — calls, texts — it’s all commodity. What have you done for me lately? What do you offer me beyond the commodity? What’s the *difference*? Where are the real benefits — and I’m not talking about getting priority access to some music gig. I can already afford the best possible tickets.

I like the idea of being able to ‘touch down’ for 30 minutes at my local o2 store. And while I’m there, get someone to sort out an upgrade. And have a diet coke. Frankly, o2 can afford it. Especially if they’d like to continue getting cash out of me. I’d happily do a deal whereby I paid £29 a month to be able to ‘touch down’ at the local o2 store, check my mail, grab a coke, charge my phone, take a conference call in a bit of privacy (provided I booked ahead with the o2 store app). Or I’d be happy to move to a new price plan that ‘included’ this.

I’ll do some more investigation into the workshop element of the store in due course. The Mobile News site has a good bit of background.

By the way: You can find the workshop photo set here via o2’s official Flickr account.

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