Paul Riachi is a self-confessed child at heart, having visited every Disneyland in the world and read every novel about Walt Disney. He has taken inspiration from the Disney business model to create an in-store experience that plays on people’s emotions to make them feel warm and welcome.

Riachi is the managing director of the world’s largest audio visual specialist store, Rio Sound & Vision, with two Melbourne locations – Preston in the north-east and Hampton in the south-east. The Preston site has recently been revamped and officially launched to the public.

In a recent interview with Appliance Retailer, Riachi reflected on the humble beginnings of Rio Sound & Vision and the journey to the $3.8 million store renovation.

“We started in 1993 in car audio. I am an electronics engineer and technician, as well as a THX certified sound engineer. When I started with Rio, it was called Rio Auto Sound. Why Rio? My dad took over a service station in 1968 and it was named Rio Motors. He acquired the property next door to the service station and we decided to rename it Rio Auto Sound,” Riachi explained.

“In 1998, we transitioned into home theatre, which was projection and a pair of speakers at the time, and changed the business name to Rio Sound & Vision.”

The Rio Sound & Vision megastore location in Preston was purchased in 2013. With 4,000 square metres of land, Riachi made the decision to extend the building to 3,000 square metres of retail space with construction commencing in 2015.

“I hired a Melbourne-based contractual artist who had worked on several movies including Star Wars: Force Awakens, Gladiator and 300. I shared my ideas and thoughts with him and then engaged a retail flow manager and architect to design the showroom to replicate the look and feel of a theme park,” Riachi said.

“We could have built a traditional theatre room and retail environment, but we wanted to provide customers with a unique experience. It took a lot of planning because we had to optimise our range to offer a good, better and best proposition across the range.”

Rio Sound & Vision and its stores are a part of The Indi Group, which imports electronics in Australia and supplies goods to other specialist stores, as well as The Good Guys stores across Australia.

“We have built the Loewe Galleria store within a store – the only one of its kind outside of Europe. In addition to the latest TVs, the Loewe Galleria incorporates memorabilia products including the original Loewe radio used in World War II,” Riachi said.

“We have invested over $3.8 million in the construction of the building, choosing flooring that is suspended from the concrete to stop any vibration, and lead lining the walls for soundproofing. Our home theatre rooms are tuned and calibrated to be THX certified, which is unique to us in Australia.”

Rio Sound & Vision engaged with artists from Warner Bros to create artwork around the building including the store’s movie scene section which replicates Diagon Alley used in Harry Potter but more synced with 1920s London.

“By using themes in the showroom, we transport our customers into the experience – we want them to forget about where they are and focus on what they can have at home. Over the years, we have collected a range of movie props from Lucasfilm and Paramount Pictures because we wanted to build something that we knew our competitors wouldn’t build. In retail, the focus is always on price, so the customer service is lacking, but we want our customers to feel warm and welcome.”

When asked about his investment in bricks-and-mortar, given the rise of online shopping, Riachi said the retailer had embraced online retail from the beginning, launching its brand website in 1999.

“We only receive around 50 orders a day online but through Covid, our online presence was our savior. There’s no doubt that online shopping is here to stay – it’s part of the fabric of retail – but it’s the same with bricks-and-mortar; it isn’t going anywhere.

“Customer expectations have changed because people want more now than ever before. But if you give the customer what they want, you will succeed, as long as you are continually reinventing yourself because it’s all about experience and value.”

Interestingly, Riachi believes his biggest competitor is the travel industry – not another audio visual retailer – as consumers tighten their purse strings.

“The uptake of high-end home cinema during Covid was huge while there were travel restrictions. I am an optimist – with every negative, there is a positive. Retailers must create opportunities in their business because I believe in our market, people always have money. Listening to your customer and having the right product with value add is crucial. I acknowledge that customers are always looking for a great deal, but they are also looking for an experience; they want to feel good and be entertained so we need to push the excitement of our world-leading brands and innovative technology.”