When Best Buy was founded 50 years ago, things like drones, virtual reality headsets and door locks controlled with a smartphone seemed more like science fiction.
Today, those gadgets are part of the lifeblood of the nation's largest electronics chain, which has outlasted the rise and fall of many of the other devices it has sold throughout the years, such as VCRs and Palm Pilots.
To help celebrate the company's big anniversary, the Richfield-based retailer is showcasing some of the latest technology it sells in a house of sorts it has temporarily put in the middle of the Mall of America.
Afton-based Chandler Inc. designed and built the display, called Best Buy Tech Home, that opened in the mall's rotunda on Monday and will stay open through Sept. 17.
Inside are several rooms — a kitchen, living room, office and bedroom — outfitted with smart products. The idea is to show consumers how doorbells, lights, music, home security and even refrigerators can be controlled from a smartphone or tablet and how it could make their lives easier or better.
The display is staffed by Best Buy's blue shirts and Geek Squad employees who carry around Samsung tablets to demonstrate the various products.
The project is reminiscent of the experimental store called "Open House" that Minneapolis-based Target Corp. opened in July 2015 in San Francisco.
In that lab, Target also has built various rooms of a house and displayed how connected home products can be used together.
Best Buy has connected home departments in most of its stores. Executives have said they see the category as being an area of growth at a time when the retailer is looking for new waves of innovation to keep the business energized. The company, which reports its second-quarter results on Tuesday, has forecast no sales growth this year amid an industrywide slowdown in smartphone sales.
Best Buy Tech Home features products from various brands such as Samsung, Netgear, Canon, Philips Hue and Qualcomm.
As they exit the mock house, customers can buy any of the products online from some laptops set up for that purpose and have them delivered to their home or pick them up at Best Buy's third-floor store at the Mall of America.
And if visitors fill out a survey at the end, they can also sign up for a free in-home consultation in which a Best Buy employee will come to their home to give them ideas of how to incorporate more technology into their homes. Best Buy has been piloting a similar service of in-home advisers in Atlanta, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, in recent months.
Best Buy is marking its 50th anniversary this week. It started in St. Paul in 1966 under the name Sound of Music, a store that mostly sold home and car audio equipment. Its name was changed to Best Buy in 1983.