Whatever happened to Verizon and J-Lo's Viva Movil?
The fledgling Hispanic-centric wireless retail chain remains alive, though still under the radar.
Pop star Jennifer Lopez invested all the glitz and glamor she could muster in the May 2013 launch of retail chain Viva Movil, which specializes in selling Verizon Wireless products and services to Hispanics.
A year later, though, the buzz is gone.
Lopez unveiled Viva along with then-Verizon Wireless Chief Operating Officer Marni Walden in May 2013 at the end of a painfully uneventful wireless trade show. Draped in a chic, slinky white dress, Lopez stood in front of a giant display and flashing lights talking about the opportunity she saw in catering to the Hispanic market with family-friendly stores, more attentive services, and -- of course -- J-Lo-inspired smartphone cases.
A month later, Lopez, who serves as chief creative officer for Viva, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first Viva store, in Brooklyn, NY, on Flatbush Avenue, directly across from the newly built Barclays Center arena.
Any hype garnered at the launch has since faded. While Viva has expanded to 15 stores in the Hispanic-heavy markets of New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, awareness of the brand remains low. CNET visited two Viva stores, one in the Los Angeles area and the original Brooklyn flagship location, where employees acknowledge some people walk in not even realizing it's a wireless store.
"More than one customer has come in asking for coffee," said a Viva employee who wished not to be named.
That Viva remains under the radar for consumers appears to be a missed opportunity for both Lopez and Verizon, which is eager to search for new areas of customer growth at a time when the industry is starting to slow. Hispanics make up the fastest-growing demographic in the US and are a group of consumers ripe for a more personalized experience when it comes to technology products and services.
Hispanic data usage is 16 percent higher than the national average, according to a Nielsen survey, with 49 percent of Latino respondents saying they planned to replace or upgrade their smartphone within the next six months. Members of the group are also twice as likely to upgrade their tablets within the next six months.
Verizon and Lopez aren't the only ones who have taken noticed. In May, T-Mobile partnered with Univision to create a Hispanic-centric wireless service, Univision Mobile, sold through Walmart and dealer stores.
Viva's touches, such as the emphasis on a children's space; incorporating live devices instead of dummy models; the use of more couches; and an open feeling do set it apart from other carrier stores and are designed to appeal to Hispanic customers.
"There's just certain things I get because I am one of those people, that maybe other people don't get," Lopez said in an interview last year. "I think being in the entertainment business, and that combined with building my own brand and being who I am, I come at it from a creative perspective that's a little bit different."
Lopez didn't respond to a Twitter message about this story. CNET contacted a representative from Brightstar, a wireless distribution service, as well as Moorehead, which operates a chain of premium Verizon Wireless stores, which both support Viva. They also act as representatives for Viva, according to Verizon. Neither responded to a request for comment. Viva parted ways with its own outside public relations firm, which declined to comment as well.
Just another Verizon retailer
Viva's campaign has largely been online, and is part of Verizon's "omnichannel" strategy of being able to sell services and products both at physical stores and online, according to Kim Collins, director of multicultural marketing for Verizon.
"The brand has been sustained by social media, and is very targeted," Collins said in an interview.
Despite the big launch and high-profile face of Viva, Verizon treats it like any other indirect retailer. That also means when a high-profile device such as the iPhone 5S launches, Viva won't get the device for a week, with priority given to Verizon-owned stores (the iPhone 5C, however, was there on Day 1).
Not that Verizon ignores Viva. The employees were universally pleased with the support provided by Verizon, which helps with sales training.
"Any problems we have get fixed immediately," said Amed Gaitan, manager of the Viva store in Baldwin Park, Calif.
Many of the Viva stores have actually flipped their logos so the Verizon name takes precedence over Viva.
"When we first started, people asked if this was a clothing store," Gaitan said.
Located in a strip mall, the store does get decent traffic after work, Gaitan said, and he'll sometimes keep it running after the 8 p.m. closing time to accommodate some late customers.
Customers who do take the time to learn about Viva appreciate the different touches, Gaitan said.
"We get a lot of regulars," he said, noting some people will come in monthly to pay their bills.
Showing Viva some love
At least early on, Lopez seemed active in promoting the Viva brand. She participated in a campaign, shown on YouTube, where she would surprise Viva customers with a personal experience.
Gaitan said Lopez has popped up in the Southern California flagship store in Lynwood, as well as its Pico Rivera location.
And of course, photos of her face adorn the walls at the store.
It's unclear how engaged Lopez is in Viva. Since the original ribbon cutting ceremony, she hasn't returned to the Brooklyn flagship store. She hasn't provided any support to the store, according to an employee there.
Verizon, for its part, insists Lopez remains a big part of Viva.
"She's been very engaged and a good partner," Collins said. "We're pretty happy with how it has gone so far."