Is Best Buy About to Go Bye Bye?

sharon_mccollam-large-1112As a last-ditch effort, Best Buy has hired Sharon McCollam, a former Williams-Sonoma finance wizzard. She accepted, coming out of retirement to helm the Best Buy recovery plan financially.

The stock already wet up today from the news, but can she even accomplish this?

Best Buy made a living under-cutting the hundreds, no thousands, of mom-and-pop as well as regionally and locally focused consumer TV and electronics store fronts. In the 1980s and1990s, they simply dominated the space — opening a store wherever they could find buyers and making all the right moves. As stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Tuesday Morning started selling everything from food to furniture at a discount (or at least cheaper than the local grocer or retail store), Best Buy did the same for TVs, VCRs, CDs, DVDs and books. Problem is, no one’s buying those things anymore. CDs, DVDs and books are all now sold virtually (as digital downloads) in higher quantities than the physical products are. VCRs were killed by the DVD player in the late 1990s, then the DVD player was killed by the one-two punch (DVR-iTunes). All that’s left for Best Buy now is selling HDTVs — something that even the big makers of them can’t make money on. Sony, Sharp and Panasonic have all reported steady declines in sales and profits — blaming most of it on HDTVs.

So how in the world can Best Buy survive selling TVs?

They can’t.

The hope is that they can leverage their relationships with phone service providers like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon as well as home appliance manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Frigidaire in addition to TV companies, to, ironically, try and undercut the Internet companies in pricing — or as they put it, to stop “showrooming,” the art of going to a Best Buy store and finding what you want and then buying it on Amazon.com.

So, how will they fix it? Well, the path is now very clear with Sharon McCollam there. I’ve met Sharon and I can tell you that she is an artist at branding. She will attempt to reposition Best Buy as a higher-end, more valuable alternative to anything else out there. Just walk into a Williams-Sonoma and see for yourself. They sell waffle irons for twice than those at Target, but you’ll still see people in malls standing in line to get them.

To pull this off, she’ll need the help of the manufacturers. And, they’ll help her. They know how bad sales will be if she doesn’t succeed. They’ll want her to succeed because she will add value to their own products — and she has the capability to Apple’fy AV gear (and home appliances). She’ll bring Apple-like ideas to not only the retail stores, but she’ll push that vision up the chain to Japan, Korea and China where she’ll convince them to build differentiated products for Best Buy that will sell for more than Amazon’s prices.

And, this can’t help but be good for everyone, should it work.

If I were a betting man, I’d go buy some Best Buy stock pretty soon…