A geeked-out Lexus will be the first thing visitors notice inside the Tech Superpowers retail store at Patriot Place (Mass.) mall on grand opening day, followed by a living room set to show off home automation gear and an office displaying high-tech furniture. “We’re trying to make it very different from an Apple store opening,” says company owner Michael Oh with some understatement. When the doors open July 2nd there will be musical guests, prizes and plenty of Apple products to purchase. The company has operated a consulting and pro Mac support operation for nearly 20 years from a tiny space across the back alley from the Boylston Street (Boston) Apple store. But last November they dabbled in general retail with a 1,000 square-foot pop-up store at Patriot Place. The success of that location confirmed Oh’s belief that the time is right to take partners and go big with a 3,300 square-foot showcase of gear from Apple, Savant Systems home automation gear, Turnstone furniture, Nuvision large-screen displays, Solais Lighting Inc. and tricked-out cars by Kaizen Tuning.
“We’ve determined, as you’ve seen from Apple’s quarterly results, the business is out there,” Oh said in an interview with IFO. Bricks and mortar is still really relevant, he says. “It’s just that it needs to be solved in a different way.”
“We have a unique retail experience for people, that revolves around all the different partner companies,” he explains. “It’s not going to be about Apple products, and Apple products only.” Instead, “We’re very much about third-party products, and very much about creating a store and experience that really is—hopefully—unlike anything out there,” both in the tech world and among Apple stores.
To get the ball rolling, Oh contacted companies which he’s known for years. They all had the same problem: how do we get in front of people with our products? None of the companies could individually construct a store and compete against the Apple stores, since rent, staffing and even the electric bills are tremendously expensive, Oh says.
After discussions, Oh agreed that his company would put their name on the lease, staff the space and sell Apple products. The partners would contribute products and sales support. Oh calls it a “unique retail experiment.”
With its several partners, the store’s look and feel is going to be more like Ikea, Oh says, “Where you’ve got everything together in one place, showing how it works, rather than having one single product.” All the partners have invested $400,000 to $500,000 for the store, a fraction of Apple’s usual store funding, Oh notes.
Primary partners Savant and Turnstone are providing substantial support. In exchange, “When people walk in, Savant is going to get a lot of brand recognition and, hopefully, business,” Oh says. Savant is looking for high-end consumers or businesses who want to kit-out a conference room, and who have never seen their products before. Turnstone is looking for business customers who depend upon technology to make their operation run.
As for the Solais Lighting partnership, Oh explained that good lighting is “very, very key” in retail. But good lighting is expensive.” They found Solais, who became convinced that, “This actually was the best way to get in front of people that might buy their products.” In return, Solais is installing their LED products into the new store.
Kaizen Tuning also came on board to increase their exposure in the Boston region. They perform high-end customizations on vehicles of all kinds. Oh recalled that back in the old Macworld Boston days, Tech Superpowers had a booth with a customized car that attracted a large crowd. “The intersection of cars and technology—the audience loves both,” Oh says. The customized Lexus will be visible through the front window, and will be feature Wi-Fi connections, on-board computers, iPads, multiple screens and lots of automation to control the car.
From Tiny Office to Full Retail
The company’s downtown Boston location will remain as their headquarters and corporate sales site. It has offices, a small Internet café, co-work space and a public counter where repairs get checked in and out. Meanwhile, the new store will be completely different in size and purpose.
Oh credits the Apple stores for doing a “tremendous” job of displaying and selling products. “I don’t see anyone competing squarely against them and doing a better job,” he says. That has left Tech Superpowers to focus on business sales and support since it was founded in 1992.
As for full retail, Oh says, “I’ve never dived into retail because there’s nothing new out there. My attitude has always been, if we’re going to go into retail, we’ve got to do it entirely differently.”
As times changed, the digital lifestyle became more defined, and Oh saw more tech product companies in the Boston area that needed brand exposure. “There’s certainly a bunch of folks that want to see more, who want to see Apple products integrated with other systems, who want to see not just the Macbook Air sitting on a table. They want to see iPads controlling lighting, iPads doing some really innovative stuff.”
The new store will be aimed at displays of Macs, iPads and other devices integrated, rather than just standing on their own, Oh explained. It will also feature a full service department, which was an important component of the pop-up store. Tech Superpowers is committed to helping customers with older Apple products, Oh says, “working with people who aren’t necessarily after the newest and hottest thing all the time.”
As for the store design, Oh said, “We’re not designers, and we don’t have hugely expensive architects like Apple to design the space.” He’s working with the partners to come up with the final interior concept. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to be all the technology that comes out. We’ll see where it evolves.”
Partner sales will be done through the companies directly or though local dealers. “It’s all about experiencing at our store, and then as people get more interested and they want to see more products, they can go to different showrooms or talk to the representatives,” Oh says.
He admits that the partner concept is risky. “I think that’s something refreshing, being in business over 20 years, that people are willing to bet on you,” Oh says.”It’s one of those things that everybody had to take a bet together, and together we’re able to come up with a really unique experience.”
View July 2, 2011 grand opening photos and watch the video below.