Best Buy reaches out to female employees and customers

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Chain hopes to tap into female buying trend

National home electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) is in the midst of expanding a Bay Area and Los Angeles program devoted to building female employees as business leaders and tapping into growing female market power. It’s also launching a private-label high definition flat-panel television that retails for $500 less than competing models.

If those things seem disconnected, it’s because stereotypes of big speakers, big boxes and big testosterone persist while the market itself has changed, Best Buy VP Julie Gilbert said in an interview Monday. The Consumer Electronics Association said in 2004 that women accounted for $55 billion of electronics purchases in 2003, besting men’s $41 billion.

While online pundits have questioned that data, the company has seen that women are driving more purchases, and are interested in the improved aesthetics of the flat-panel television over the old analog boxes, according to a report on Best Buy done by RBC Capital Markets. Since the analysts cite flat screen televisions as a major long-term trend that’s pushing families to spend more money per square inch of screen than ever before, female purchasers could be particularly important.

But women in electronics stores still sometimes face the same sales chauvinism as in car lots, Gilbert said. She began the company’s Women’s Leadership Program, or woLf, to catch that market and improve women’s opportunities atthe company. “Packs” of 25 women and two men from each of the chain’s regions meet regularly to talk sales and product ideas and to create supportive environments for career growth, Gilbert said. Each group is composed of a mix of ranks, with the idea that good ideas and people can get exposed to executives.

“By putting together this group of levels, you’re also developing relationships,” Gilbert said. “Titles go away, and they’re able to build a network for themselves. Women historically have not been able to build the network men have had. Women have not been as good at being deliberate. This is deliberate and it is at scale.”

The program in the Bay Area and Los Angeles was appreciated by the staff, and successful enough that woLf will complete nationwide expansion this summer, Gilbert said. The goals for next year include increasing female recruitment and retention by 10 percent each. The company employs around 100,000 people in the U.S. and 125,000 worldwide.

No member of the San Francisco store team took part in the pilot, but a Pleasant Hill staff member did, employees said. The Pleasant Hill member was unavailable at press time.

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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