Turns Out, There Definitely Is Room for Apple Resellers

November 16, 2010

No one knows the hazards of being an Apple reseller near an Apple retail store better than Michael Oh—his Boston-based Tech Superpowers is just 75 feet across the alley behind the Boylston Street Apple store. Oh and his employees monitored the store’s 18-month construction during 2007, and wondered if revenue from their mainly-professional customers would be affected. Oh says that after the Apple store opened, his consumer and repair business declined for about 12 to 18 months. But then sales began to pick up. Now, business is better than ever, prompting Oh to take the next step—a pop-up retail store over the holiday season at Patriot Place shopping mall. And next April, Tech Superpowers will open a full-size store at the mall, hoping to serve a region without any Apple stores at all.

Tech Superpowers was never a typical walk-in type retail store. Instead, their multi-level, red-brick headquarters features an Internet café on the ground floor and offices above. Founded in 1992, their customers came mostly from the pro video, audio and photography industries. But once in the shadow of the Apple store, consumer-level customers began arriving, referred by Boylston Street employees. Now they’re handling more out-of-warranty repairs, system back-ups and other consumer-type work. “We love being next door to an Apple store,” Oh said.

Oh notes that Apple’s recent focus on small and medium-sized business customers hasn’t hurt his business. Apple has hired new business sales staffers and opened Briefing Rooms at certain stores. But despite this new emphasis, Oh believes there are still ways for his company to serve business customers, delivering and installing gear and software, training staff, preparing back-up systems and integrating other gear with Apple’s computers.

But Oh now wants to reach out more, touching consumer-level customers in regions underserved by Apple. “It’s essential that we get in front of people, not market from the back office,” Oh explained. About a year ago representatives of Patriot Place approached his company about locating within the mall, part of a huge complex that includes the New England Patriots football stadium. The mall had a space they were going to occupy with an information booth, but offered Tech Superpowers a great deal if they’d move in for the holidays.

The mall is huge at 1.3 million square-feet, and is accompanied by office space, a cinema, live theater venue, 15 restaurants, two hotels, a medical office, football museum and Patriots hall of fame. The region’s average household income is almost $100,000 a year, over double the national average.

After some negotiations, Oh signed a deal to open on Black Friday in a 1,000 square-foot space (photo right) that will focus on streamlined sales of iPods, iPads, the new MacBook Air, and Apple accessories. Oh has hired a general manager to guide the new retail initiative, a store manager for administrative operations, and Apple experts to staff the sales positions. “We’re starting small to see if we can make retail work,” he said.

Next April, Tech Superpowers will open a 3,300 square-foot permanent store in a different space within the mall, offering a full range of Apple products, repair services and consultation, Oh said. The store will not attempt to mimic Apple’s architecture or design, but will definitely try to advance the art of retail technology.

“There is room for a new kind of retail out there,” Oh said. First, the permanent store will feature product displays with 3-dimensional, QR-format barcodes, which visitors can scan with their smartphone to immediately watch a demonstration video of the product. Customers who buy products at the store will be eligible to create reviews of their purchased product, and visitors will be able to read those reviews via the QR-code link.

The permanent store will also have a demo living room, equipped with home automation gear from Savant Systems. The set-up will include high-end audio, video, home lighting and environmental controls, integrated with Apple products like the Apple TV.

Taking a tip from Apple, the sales staff will use Lightspeed Mobile point-of-sale software to complete purchases, running on a iPod touch equipped with the Linēa Pro magstripe-barcode scanner—the same device used at Apple’s retail stores.

Oh says he’s moving slowly on the expansion into consumer retail, but he’s hopeful. “We feel there’s room in the fringe markets,” Oh says. He’s already spotted several more potential locations for new stores…which are nowhere near an Apple store.

Update: A December 2010 story in the Daily Sound (Santa Barbara, Calif.) newspaper explains how local reseller Mac Mechanic re-cast its business after an Apple store landed there in May 2009.

The future Tech Superpowers retail store will be at least 15 miles from any existing Apple store.

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