Moto Shop, State Street entrance

Sitting right on State Street in downtown Chicago's Block 37 shopping center is an inconspicuous little storefront with a simple sign: Moto. It's the first physical Motorola store in the United States, and they're focusing more on educating consumers about their products and that Motorola still exists and makes interesting hardware than selling hardware. They do sell devices and accessories in the store, and the end goal of that education is to drive sales, but that's not the point of the Moto Shop.

The Moto Shop has been in "soft opening" mode for the past week, with a grand opening scheduled for Saturday, November 14th, with an advertising campaign on local Chicago television and ads in the city's mass transit system. The location is a prime spot, opening onto the pedestrian-heavy State Street on the outside and into the mall inside, though the space isn't huge and not a lot of space has been saved for a stock room (thus necessitating a narrow on what the store actually does). The choice of Chicago was a natural one for Motorola — the city has been the company's home for more than 80 years, even through acquisitions by Google and Lenovo.

Unlike a carrier store, which is designed almost exclusively around selling you services and devices, Moto Shop is centered on consumer education, both of the Moto brand and the devices they sell. It's a spot where you can go and actually feel the wood and leather backs available for the Moto X Pure Edition and try on a Moto 360 and drop a working Droid Turbo onto a hard surface.

Consumer awareness of Motorola isn't exactly what we would call widespread, in spite of the company's storied history and recent focus on delivering a surprising level or performance and quality and lower price points. That's part of the challenge that Motorola is facing with the Moto Shop.

The Moto Shop is Motorola's first store in the United States, but it's not their first retail endeavor. Motorola brought their Latin America head of retail sales to Chicago to assist in the store's development and launch. The company operates retail kiosks in shopping centers all across Latin America where devices like the Moto G and Moto E have proven to be popular thanks to their very low price points. Additionally, Motorola's partnered with Best Buy to handle the cellular service side of the equation; Best Buy's experience in sales for all major US carriers in their stores was invaluable, but this is the first time they've partnered like this to provide behind-the-scenes support for a storefront like this.

Motorola's committed to trying out the Moto Shop in this location for at least six months, though the store's creators and staff are hopeful that the experiment will be extended beyond that point. Like Apple in 2001 at the launch of the first Apple Stores, Motorola is attempting to rebuild their brand recognition and consumer consideration. Taking the retail experience into their own hands and having Motorola employees tell the Motorola story is a strong step in that direction.

The State Street entrance of the Moto Shop is bright and open. On our visit there was a display showing off the Moto 360 in one window with the other open to the Moto X Moto Maker table. They're planning to install a display for the Moto X Pure Edition in the other window. Unlike many of the other Block 37 shops that face the road, the Moto Shop window displays remain lit overnight with overhead television displays (from parent company Lenovo) providing additional information.

The interior mall entrance for the Moto Shop is wrapped in warm wood, exuding a welcoming feel that's missing from the sterile atmospheres of some other gadget shops.

Immediately on entry from the street you're greeted with two options: the Moto 360 displays, which have a more jewelry store vibe to them, or the touch-it-yourself Moto Maker table for the Moto X Pure Edition. The Moto 360 displays show off the various parts that can go into customizing your own Moto 360, breaking it down to the sizes, casing, bezel, and bands.

While the displays are covered filled with nonfunctional units, against the side wall are a few watches running the Android Wear demo loop, and there's a drawer full of the watches in varying sizes and materials for prospective buyers to actually try on. It's the first spot where we've actually seen, much less worn, the double-tour women's size watch.

The Moto X Pure Edition table is all about finding the right materials and color combination for you. Every option for the latest generation of Moto X is represented on the table, from the glass and metal bezel choices to the silicon, leather, and wood backs, to even the accent colors for the metal trim piece on the back. It's not quite a "build-your-own" Moto X station, but it does let customers see what they should expect it to look like in real life.

The only caveat is that the wood and leather backs at the table aren't actually wood and leather — they're not designed to be played with like that and wouldn't hold up to the abuse well. Of course, the phones actually are wood and leather, but just not right here. Those natural materials are sampled in real swatches on the table and in big panels on the wall, just so you really see the depth and feel the texture yourself.

There's not a Moto Maker shop somewhere in the back, so like ordering a car with custom options, you can pay for it right then and there, but you might not walk out the store with it today. The Moto Shop is stocking the same Moto X Pure Edition styles as Best Buy, which means you can expect them to have the phone with the black silicone, white silicone, and bamboo backs available in 16GB and 32GB capacities. If you want something other than that, Lenovo tablets at the Moto X table and the Moto 360 displays will let you build your own and order it, or customize an order and save it for later purchasing.

Motorola wants you to do more than just touch the stuff — they want you to play with it too. So there are some interactive parts to the store as well. A photo booth spot of sorts invites you to step in front of the Moto X's camera with some ridiculous oversized props, and then get the photo sent to you. Of course, that's also a way to get you into Motorola's marketing database by handing over your email, though they do offer the opportunity to let that serve as an entry to win a new device while you're at it.

There's also a drop station for the Motorola Droid Turbo 2 with its fancy five-layer display. With four hard surfaces — wood, asphalt, slate, and porcelain tile — on which to drop the Verizon phone from whatever height you prefer, it's a fun demonstration of the phone's durability (though in a controlled environment). The store had been barely open for a week when we visited and the drop units they used for the demo were still fully functional with unbroken glass, but it was clear they'd already seen some abuse with scratches all around the glass and bezel. Apparently some visitors have taken to throwing the phones against the floor — with staff encouragement — and the phones still survived. Your mileage may vary, of course, but Motorola's standing by the display with a 3-year warranty.

Oh, and Motorola actually does sell some things in this store too. Between the Moto Maker tables that you'll find at either entrance of the store is a pair of white tables that show the full Motorola phone line-up, from the $120 Moto E on up to the Moto X Pure Edition and Droid Turbo 2, plus the Moto 360 watch, along with a few specs and pricing on each (the only place in the store where you'll see such numbers). So yes, you can buy things at the Moto Shop, but that's not the point of the store.

And then there's the Moto Café, which seems like the least thought-out portion of the store. Nothing's for sale here, but Motorola's partnering with other local retailers to demonstrate some of the capabilities of the Motorola ecosystem. In this case, it was using the Moto X phones arrayed around the circular counter to order a package of cookies prepared by the famed Magnolia Bakery. You pick your cookies, enter your name, and the order's sent to the Moto 360 on the wrist of the employee behind the counter, who grabs your cookies and calls your name to deliver them.

Part of it's a little hokey (Motorola's using an internal app to relay orders from a multiple phones to a single watch), and Motorola says they're looking to rotate their partnership with other local companies, maybe offering more than just good items through the café as well. Right now it's free cookies, which we're not about to turn down (the peanut butter cookies were delightful, by the way).

Moto Shop

The Moto Shop is an interesting experience, for sure, and it's one we saw already paying off while we were in the store. Motorola's not really broadcasting the store until the weekend's grand opening, but in the 30 minutes I was there I saw a decent amount of walk-in traffic and a few sales as well. I listened in on a conversation at the Moto Maker table and the customer mentioned that they'd seen a segment earlier that day of ABC's Good Morning America in which they had dropped a Droid Turbo 2 from a scissor lift up to 10 feet in the air without damaging the display (though we don't recommend you do the same).

Maybe the Moto Shop is the start of something for Motorola. Maybe it's the first step in a process of rebuilding their brand identity and awareness. Maybe more makes-you-cringe moments like dropping a phone onto concrete is what it will take.

Well, Motorola's trying that too. For Saturday's grand opening there will be Moto Shop employees standing out on the State Street sidewalk purposely dropping the Droid Turbo 2. It'll get them some attention, sure, but whether that can translate into sales, and whether that translates down the road into more Moto Shops, remains to be seen.

If you're in Chicago, you can check it out yourself. The Moto Shop's located on the first level of the Block 37 shopping center at 108 N State St, and is open from 10 am to 8 pm Monday through Saturday and 11 am to 6 pm on Sundays.