Best Buy to add 500 new Geek Squad agents

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 14, 2012 - 7:54 AM

The Richfield-based retail giant needs agents with a higher skill set to focus on small business and Connected Stores.

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Geek Squad agents wear company tie pins as part of their uniform.

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Best Buy Co. Inc. plans to hire 500 new Geek Squad agents by the end of the year, a hiring spree that will replace most of the 600 Geek Squad employees set to lose their jobs in August, the company said Friday.

The Richfield-based consumer electronics giant has been retooling its profitable Geek Squad business, moving more agents toward services for small businesses and its next-generation Connected Stores. In turn, the company will focus less on basic home installations.

"Technology has changed quite a bit, and so has Geek Squad," George Sherman, Best Buy's senior vice president of services, said in an interview.

Last week, the company said it will cut about 3 percent, or 600, of its 20,000-strong Geek Squad team, part of 2,400 job cuts nationwide. Sherman said the Geek Squad cuts targeted technicians who exclusively serviced individual products, like televisions and personal computers. Today, technology allows consumers to connect multiple devices, which requires a higher skill set from Geek Squad agents, he said.

Best Buy said it will devote the 500 new agents toward faster-growing business like small business. Earlier this year, the company paid $161 million to acquire MindShift Technologies, a provider of data storage and other IT services to small- to medium-sized businesses. And in March, Best Buy said Geek Squad will sell 24/7 tech support plans to small companies, which include diagnostics and repair, data security and server administration.

Best Buy also is deploying more Geek Squad techies to its remodeled Connected Stores, which emphasize more personalized, higher-end service. At the center of each Connected Store is Geek Squad Solution Central, modeled after Apple's Genius Bar. Geek Squad agents offer free tech support and tutorials to customers on devices that run both Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating system.

"They are trying to optimize that brand," said Carol Spieckerman, president of Newmarketbuilders, a retail consulting firm.

In a recent speech to shareholders, interim CEO G. "Mike" Mikan said Geek Squad is central to the company's efforts to transform itself from a simple seller of goods to a trusted source of technology advice and service.

"We need to get back to a clear understanding of what we are and how we serve customers," Mikan said. "We need to be that trusted adviser who solves problems, who anticipates needs -- not just for today but for tomorrow."

Best Buy has been struggling to grow sales as competitors like Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon expand into consumer electronics. In addition to cuts in Geek Squad, the company also plans to eliminate about 1,800 store employees and 400 corporate positions.

The job cuts and strategy shifts are the latest twists in what has been one of the most tumultuous years in company history.

CEO Brian Dunn abruptly resigned earlier this year over allegations that he had an improper relationship with a female employee. Founder Richard Schulze agreed to relinquish his role as board chairman last month after it was determined he failed to inform the board of directors about the allegations involving Dunn.

Since then, Schulze has been exploring options for his major ownership stake, including a possible takeover bid.

Best Buy has lost several key executives since the internal turmoil began, including Chief Technology Officer and Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens. The company recently decided to collectively pay its four top executives $2 million in cash to cement their ties to the retailer while the search for a permanent CEO continues.

Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113

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