Best Buy Aims to Get Their Geek On At 'The Con'

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - More than 100,000 attendees are expected at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the four-day conference that went from comic books fans and sci-fi geeks to the-place-to-be for all pop culture.

This year, newcomers including A-list movie stars like Hugh Jackman promoting The Wolverine and Hello Kitty will be attending the show, which kicks off on Thursday. New movie releases and hit TV series likes AMC's "The Walking Dead" and HBO's "Game of Thrones" will also fight for the spotlight.

Another first timer deserving particular attention from retail investors will be Best Buy ( BBY), the electronic retailer eager to be seen as cool and hip. Of course, investors have liked what they're seeing in the company, which has gained 141% this year.

Best Buy, along with Fox and Qualcomm ( QCOM), is co-hosting Power-Up! Cafe, the media lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel.

"Anything Best Buy does to convince all their stakeholders that it's reinventing itself is a smart move," says Michael Robinson, executive vice president of Levick Communications and manager of the firm's Corporate and Public Affairs Practice Group.

"You've got to go where the money is -- in this case if indeed the people going to Comic-Con are buying computers, keyboards, consoles and surface tablets then you should go there too. It makes sense.''

Glenn Kelley, owner of marketing firm Kelley & Cohorts in Wellesley, Mass., and a lecturer at Babson College, notes that attendees at Comic-Con are part of the "early adapter" crowd, referring to tech-savvy customers who are typically the first to buy new product versions. Additionally, hundreds of journalists and bloggers regularly attend the show.

Sponsoring a place specifically for the media to hang out "creates buzz," Kelley says. "What this can hopefully do is create a lot of positive word of mouth and brand awareness, and increased appeal for their products."

One of the biggest problems for Best Buy in its quest to remain relevant is the overarching problem of customers coming into a store to survey products but ultimately buying them online at competitors like Amazon ( AMZN).

Under CEO Hubert Joly, Best Buy is aiming to become a destination in itself, a place where the cool, hip kids wants to shop for their electronics. Launching stores within stores with Microsoft ( MSFT) and Samsung is one way in which the company hopes to prevent customers from simply using Best Buy as a practice floor.

Associating itself with "cool products," like the Pebble watch is another example which Best Buy is pursuing. A week ago, Best Buy became the exclusive retailer to sell the Pebble smart watch, which got its start as one of the most successful early Kickstarter-crowdfunding campaigns.

"Comic-Con has always been a place for content. It's never been a place where people focused on hardware and Best Buy, at its core, is a hardware supplier," Robinson says. "They're looking for a place to go where it isn't crowded with its competitors, Wal-Mart ( WMT)and Target ( TGT). For them to go somewhere where they aren't a lot of retailers makes a lot of sense. They're trying really hard. They're being innovative. They're not using the same old playbook."

Best Buy spokesman Jon Sandler said in an emailed statement that the partnership is a natural collaboration. Besides providing Geek Squad support, the company is also looking to promote its streaming video service, CinemaNow.

Successful turnaround companies like Home Depot ( HD) and PetSmart ( PETM) have "a management team with vision, one willing to break down the old silos, to question what would seem like basic ways of bringing product to market and interacting with consumers and to look at the costs with a sunset provision, meaning nothing is justified just because that is the way it was done. We see all these elements in Best Buy," Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter wrote in a July 1 research.

Balter resumed coverage on Best Buy with a buy-equivalent rating.

Best Buy is scheduled to report its second-quarter results in August.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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