UNIVERSITY PARK -- Gone are the days of standing around 30 minutes for help or buying a new device without trying it first.
The Verizon Wireless store at 85 North Cattlemen Road is one of the first in the country to be transformed into a "Smart Store," a redesign that company officials say will better serve the customer and give them an enhanced smartphone and tablet experience.
Customers at the University Park store, which reopened in October, are immediately greeted by a tablet-toting employee who asks what they're looking for. If there's a wait -- the shop is well-staffed so most of the time there isn't -- the customer's name is entered into an electronic queue.
Take a seat or go play. There are more than 100 live devices ready to be examined.
Over the next several years, more than 1,700 Verizon stores across the country will be transformed into Smart Stores, which are similar to Apple stores in layout, look and customer service. The stores will contain specialists who will spend time with customers to go over different devices and answer questions and all the devices will be turned on and ready to use. Verizon stores will get bigger, they'll get better.
"It's really a more open, experience-type store," said Verizon spokesperson Chuck Hamby. "You can go and play with the devices and our folks aren't going to be standing behind a counter."
The store, which has been expanded to 4,600 square feet, was buzzing Monday afternoon. A woman was looking at myriad phone cases that covered a wall. A man was sampling an HTC smart phone. Another was checking out a $299 GoPro camera.
Jacqueline Siegel-Frascella of Sarasota was waiting for her iPhone workshop to start. She was in the store a couple weeks ago to buy a charger for her new phone when an employee told her about the free in-store workshops.
"I'm pretty good on my iPhone, but I'm here to learn the advanced stuff," she said. "This is terrific. A friend of mine has Sprint and they don't do these types of things."
The workshops are offered on weekdays up to three times per day as part of the new Smart Store format, said solutions manager Josh Collins.
"Some people get these phones and they're afraid of technology. The classes give them the confidence they need," Collins said.
Throughout the store there are smartphone accessories that can enhance a workout or monitor weight loss. There's a portable Bose stereo speaker. There's a device called Nest that allows a person to monitor their home while traveling. There's even toys like smartphone-controlled helicopters and Crayola-brand cameras for kids.
"The store opens up your eyes to the possibilities there are with your phone and your tablet," Collins said. "The experience is far more than just talking and sending e-mails."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.