The May 1996 acquisition of Nature Company stores by Discovery Communications Inc., Bethesda, Md., officially bore fruit last month as a 30,000 sq. ft. Discovery Channel flagship opened in Washington, D.C., at the MCI Center. The unveiling also was a sneak peek at the company's plan to translate its cable TV brand into regional mall retail around the country.

According to Greg Moyer, president and chief creative officer of Discovery Communications (parent company for Discovery Channel Retail), the flagship will reflect equal parts museum and retail store. As an outgrowth of its broadcasting roots, the flagship will feature MediArc - a 36-screen, 270-degree video and audio presentation tied directly into the company's cable channel programming. Another section of the store will feature a life-size skeleton cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, along with an interactive story on fossil excavation. Visitors also will be able to purchase such items as science projects for kids, ceramics and music from diverse cultures, telescopes and hand-carved totem poles.

"There is storytelling inherent in our brand, in our network and in our products," Moyer says, adding that the company will build its mall store product identity as an outgrowth of the flagship experience. "The stores will reflect an unprecedented, rich mix of products. That is certainly one thing that people will find most unusual about our store: the deep commitment to telling stories."

With the existing national Nature Company locations, Discovery Channel now has a built-in channel in which to tell its story. According to Moyer, the store repositioning process will be steady, as each Nature Company store will experience a calculated, thorough transformation.

"The renovation process will demonstrate a fairly complete change, with new fixturing and products and other store attributes," he says. "We are converting Nature Company leases into Discovery Channel stores at the rate of between 15 and 30 stores this year. We will continue that process in 1999 and 2000 until the change is completed."

Although Discovery Channel's initial store growth will primarily come in the form of store renovations, Moyer says the company will remain open to prime locations. "We're going to be opportunistic with really important locations that open up in the future," he says, adding that airport locations could be in the chain's future as well. "But we're not out there aggressively seeking new locations until we've been able to convert the current ones."

A second Discovery Channel flagship is slated for spring 1999 at the SONY Meteron complex in San Francisco. And although Moyer notes that there are no immediate plans for additional flagships, he says the company sees the format as deserved of its own expansion strategy, both here and abroad.