Playa Vista computer hardware manufacturer Belkin International Inc. is working to get a better signal from customers.

The technology company, which until now had sold its goods wholesale mostly through giant retailers such as Best Buy Co. Inc., Target Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., opened its first retail store last week at the Westfield Culver City mall.

Belkin, a billion-dollar company with about 1,200 employees, sells computer gear such as surge protectors and wireless routers as well as accessories for mobile devices such as smartphone cases and tablet stands.

Maureen Lewis, director of retail operations for Belkin, said many of the company’s customers don’t realize that it sells more than routers.

“We have a challenge with our brand,” she said. “We have a lot of customers who know of Belkin, or might have a Belkin item in their home, but they don’t know how diversified we are. We wanted to showcase the entire breadth of our assortment.”

The 350-square-foot store isn’t a typical mall store. It doesn’t have walls and it’s positioned in the middle of the hallway. It’s more than a kiosk, though, because customers can walk through the space.

Employees at the store encourage customers to try out iPads that have been attached to counters.

Lewis said the purpose of the store is to market the company more than to boost sales.

“Initially, it really is a place to articulate the Belkin brand, to make sure our message is being told,” Lewis said. “We want to give customers the experience they deserve, and you don’t always get to control that by selling through other retail stores.”

A second Belkin store is scheduled to open in San Francisco this fall.

Revolving Doors

L.A. chain Mendocino Farms this June will open its fifth quick-service sandwich spot. With a dedicated kids’ area and outdoor patio, the restaurant, across the street from the Grove at Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, was designed to be the company’s flagship store. In February, Mendocino Farms opened its first full-service restaurant, Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar, in downtown. … British luxury women’s wear brand Eskandar last week opened its second U.S. shop, on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. The 5,000-square-foot shop sells women’s clothing, accessories, house wares and furniture from around the world. The store is the fifth for Anglo-Persian designer Eskandar Nabavi. The company plans a sixth in Chicago. … Danish fashion house Sand this month opened its first store in North America at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood. The 2,500-square-foot luxury lifestyle brand sells both men’s and women’s clothing. … Inglewood’s first yoga studio opened last week. Clear Gardens Yoga Studio on La Brea Avenue was launched by sisters Salena and Andrea Collins. … L.A. shoe retailer Warehouse Shoe Sale will close its Echo Park store after 15 years. The company, which owns about 55 stores, blamed poor sales and a difficult-to-reach location. Lupe Campos, district manager for WSS, said the company will look for a new space in the neighborhood. … New York bridal design and manufacturing company JLM Couture Inc. earlier this month opened its first retail store in Beverly Hills. The 1,600-square-foot store on Robertson Boulevard will sell all five of the company’s fashion labels, as well as custom-designed gowns.

At Your Service

Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the nation’s largest privately held specialty coffee and tea retailer, has named John Theuer chief financial officer. Theuer joined the L.A. company after 16 years as chief financial officer for Panda Restaurant Group in Rosemead. His previous employers include Walt Disney Co., Acapulco Restaurants and Hilton Hotels Corp. The company also named Mark Watkins vice president of operations. Watkins comes to Coffee Bean after 13 years at Rubio’s Restaurants Inc. … International professional services firm Ernst & Young LLP announced it will award real estate developer Rick Caruso the 2012 Master Entrepreneur of the Year Award for greater Los Angeles. Caruso will receive the award at the Beverly Hills Hilton on June 19. Past L.A. awardees include Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Alfred E. Mann and the late John E. Anderson.

Staff reporter Bethany Firnhaber can be reached at bfirnhaber@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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