The Geekmobile is going back to the future.
For its 22-year history, the Geek Squad has tapped a retro-chic image, most notably with the Volkswagen Beetle as the iconic mode of transportation for thousands of its “agents” for more than a decade. Now Best Buy’s consumer tech support arm is taking a more forward-looking approach.
On Monday morning, the company will host a town-hall meeting at its Richfield headquarters where executives will unveil what had been a closely guarded secret. The brand is getting new wheels: the Toyota Prius.
“It is equal part tech savvy and equal part environmentally friendly,” Nate Bauer, the Geek Squad’s “chief inspector”, told the Star Tribune. “What we stand for has evolved.”
The change is part of a larger effort to further highlight the Geek Squad, with 20,000 “agents,” as a key asset of Best Buy’s business.
Beyond saving money on gasoline by switching the 1,100-vehicle fleet to hatchback Prius C’s, the new vehicle is reflective of Best Buy’s commitment announced last year to reduce its carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2020, officials said.
With the change, Best Buy also wants to signal that the Geek Squad now does a lot more than computer repair. It installs home theater systems and helps customers set up connected home devices such as smart thermostats and smart locks. In total, Geek Squad agents make more than 5 million house calls a year, traveling an estimated 12.6 million miles to get to customers’ homes.
On Monday morning, company executives also will announce the launch of a new marketing campaign called “We Make It Work” that highlights the more expansive services of the Geek Squad.
As part of the overhaul, the Geek Squad is getting an updated logo. It will be emblazoned on the Priuses, employee uniforms, as well as the 1,900 other vans the Geek Squad uses to transport larger items such as 65-inch TVs.
Under Chief Executive Hubert Joly, Best Buy has been looking to further leverage the Geek Squad and its growing array of services within the company’s portfolio as a way to stay valuable to consumers in an age when they can easily buy the products themselves from a number of other online players.
Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant, said it’s wise for Best Buy to update the Geek Squad’s image to make sure it doesn’t become stale. After all, many other players from Amazon to new start-ups are looking to encroach on its turf.
“It’s an owned asset that Best Buy has had for awhile, but that arguably is more important than ever,” Spieckerman said. “Every retailer is thinking about how do we create a seamless experience with solutions and services to where consumers don’t just buy products and go on their merry way, but leverage our full platform. That is hitting a fevered pitch in retail right now.”
One day, some analysts think, the Geek Squad and its fleet of vehicles also could be used to quickly deliver items to customers’ homes the same day they are ordered online. But for now, Best Buy is partnering with Silicon Valley-based Deliv to handle same-day delivery in 13 markets.
The Geek Squad was founded in 1994 by Robert Stephens. He famously started out with just a bicycle and $200.
“In the early days, Robert would try to find iconic vehicles for us to drive,” Bauer said. “The original vehicle was a 1958 Simca Aronde. It’s a bright green vehicle. Robert would just drive it around downtown Minneapolis, trying to drive awareness of the Geek Squad.”
Other retro cars added to the fleet in those early years included a 1953 Morris Minor 4-Door Saloon and a 1960 Ford Falcon. Later, the Volkswagen Beetle became the squad’s car of choice.
In 2002, the Geek Squad was bought by Best Buy, which rolled out the service nationwide two years later. The quirky service became well known not just for its branded Beetles that doubled as mobile advertisements for the Geek Squad, but also for its “agents” and their uniforms of black pants, white shirts and clip-on ties.
Besides house calls, the Geek Squad of today offers online, over-the-phone and in-store tech support.
Best Buy typically updates the Geek Squad fleet of cars about every four years. In recent years, executives started to consider changing up the car in order to find a greener option that was still reliable and espoused technological innovation.
A small group of Geek Squad agents test drove about five different options, Bauer said.
He said they liked that the Prius was safe and efficient in addition to having more updated technical features such as Bluetooth in the car.
“The first thing I did was connect my phone to it to see what a phone call would sound like, what the quality of the call would be,” Bauer said. “As well, you can text via voice so the agents aren’t going to have their phones in their hands at all.
While the Prius C is sportier, employees found the four-door hatchbacks to be more spacious than the two-door Beetle.
“We had a few taller agents that would be cramped up in the Volkswagen,” he said. “When they got into the Prius, the first thing they did was adjust the seat to see how much leg room they had. They were very happy with the amount of leg room and the comfort of the vehicle."
The details of Monday’s announcement had been cloaked in secrecy, with the new Geekmobile not scheduled to arrive on Best Buy’s headquarters campus until after dark late Sunday night. But there was one unusual party that was privy to the news in advance — the California Highway Patrol.
“We did review our design plans with them,” said Paula Baldwin, a Best Buy spokeswoman.
That’s because the highway patrol has objected in the past to the Geekmobile’s design out of concern it looked too similar to its own cars. So Best Buy has modified the appearance of its cars in California in the past to avoid confusion.
The highway patrol approved of the new look, with one change. The white part of the Geek Squad logo on the Priuses will be tinted gray in that state.