Last summer, consumer electronics company Sonos opened its first retail store, in New York, and the brand is now working on a second site. Here, Sonos executive creative director, Dmitri Siegel talks exclusively to Retail Focus about the streaming revolution, breaking the mould of audio and consumer electronics retail and the challenges of working for a cultural brand.
RF. What's your background?
DS. I grew up in a creative household. My dad played a bunch of instruments and had a great record collection. My Mum was a cartographer for National Geographic and eventually was an editor of the magazine, so my imagination and dream-life has always been filled up with design and music. I spent a lot of time as a child at National Geographic and was fascinated with the process of putting together a magazine every month; how all these different pictures and stories and ideas came together into a single object. I studied Art and Design in School and was in bands, and had home studios all through my youth.
RF. What drew you to Sonos?
DS. I had gone through my own 'adult fade', where I wasn’t listening to music as much as I used to and then I got Sonos and it brought that part of my life back. It’s one of my favourite things in life, listening to music at my house, drawing with my kids, playing cards with them, or just looking out the window. I experienced how my life got better when I had Sonos and I wanted to be part of that.
RF. Tell us about your role as Executive Creative Director.
DS. I oversee all the aspects of the brand, so our communications via advertising and on our own channels, our experiences like our store in New York City, our website which is a fantastic way to go deep on Sonos, the events that we do with artists and creators. It’s a combination of storytelling, design, and curation.
RF. What challenges do you face in this position?
DS. Being a cultural brand comes down to the nuances and details. Every song we reference and every object in a home, or the way we mix modern design with a more creative lifestyle requires a very specific filter and rigour. Keeping this at the core of our identity on a global scale is challenging.
RF. Describe the Sonos brand in three words.
DS. Listen better. Live better. (count ‘em, it’s three words!)
RF. Sonos opened its first retail store in 2016, in New York City. Why was it important for the brand to open its own physical retail space?
DS. We really didn’t have a venue to share the full Sonos experience with the public. We felt we needed to build our own store to really dramatise what it’s like to add the dimension of sound to the design of your home, and how listening can transform your home life. We know that the best way to learn about Sonos is to go to a friends’ home and experience it in a home context. So the store is our attempt to recreate that in a public context and maybe even heighten it.
RF. How does the store push the boundaries of retail design?
DS. The concept kind of turns traditional store design on its head. Usually you have a big open floorplan for browsing and then some dressing rooms in the back to have a personal experience with the product. In our store most of the square footage and the very front of the store is dedicated to a private experience with the product. It’s really not normal to go into a store and then almost immediately go into a small room and close the door. Everything we did was to make that a great and transformational experience. Once people get in a listening room with their friends or by themselves, they have a great time: sharing music, exploring the objects we have curated in each room, etc. They come out understanding our products better, but also reminded of their love of music, and how nurturing and creatively fulfilling the home can be.
RF. You teamed up with Partners & Spade on the design of the store. Why was it important for you to collaborate with an outside design firm?
DS. I think it was really about Partners and Spade specifically. We admired their perspective on living and their ability to create inspiring interiors, and we felt they would help us completely break the mould of audio and consumer electronics retail. It’s been amazing working with them to bring together interior design, music, and retail.
RF. Does Sonos have plans to open any further stores?
DS. Yes, we are working on store number two right now and we are also really focused on how we can bring this experience into places where people are thinking about their home and transforming the way they live. We are really excited about our partnerships with West Elm and Air BnB. Those are both environments where we feel like we can introduce the idea of adding the dimension of sound to the design of your home.
RF. How important is music to you?
DS. When I’m sitting in my living room, looking out the window, wondering what it’s all for and feeling like a sad middle-aged dude, I put on Once In a Lifetime by the Talking Heads. Suddenly I feel like I’m part of the great opera of human existence. When I’m in the kitchen trying to get the kids ready for school and it feels like absolute drudgery and stress, I put on Guns and Ships from the Hamilton soundtrack and suddenly all three of us are singing and rapping and feeling like brothers in arms. What else can do that? What else can make you feel more deeply human than listening to music?
RF. Is it true you used to tour in a band?
DS. Yes. I was in bands from the time I was 13 years old into my early thirties. Being in a band is such great preparation for this kind of work. Obviously the collaboration and being able to build something bigger than yourself is a great skill. But also the commitment to defining your own sound and the discipline to stay true to yourself is very similar to managing a brand. It’s always tempting to want to be ZZ Top or Bad Brains but having the rigour to bring it all back to expressing your own perspective is hard and I learned that from being in bands.
RF. What's next for Sonos?
DS. There are three things that get us really excited I would say. Integrating voice control into our experience is going to be a whole new way to interact with music and we are just at the beginning of how that’s going to transform listening. The streaming revolution is finally happening, and that means so much more music and so many new music experiences. And finally, the maturation of the smart home is really exciting. We were probably the first connected home product that actually worked and works well throughout the house. Others like Nest have come along since with amazing products, but now we are finally seeing the potential to have all these things work together in a way that actually fits how we live and isn’t a novelty.