Mac or...Mac?

The Apple store is here, but it’s not the only game in town.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 7, 2010

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Everett Katzen knew this day would come. In fact, the president of Springboard Media, a Center City-based Apple computer retailer and reseller, was warned about it years ago.

In 2004, his parent company called him up, saying it had decided to open a flagship store in Center City. Not only would such a move double Katzen’s five-block-radius competition, he’d now be going toe-to-toe with a store that, according to Apple’s 2002 financial statement, had been prone to “cannibalize” its smaller independent retailers.

Obviously, that Apple store Katzen had been warned of fell through. But on July 30, Steve Jobs’ global conglomerate opened its Philly branch at 1607 Walnut St.

Luckily for Katzen, the premature announcement six years earlier became his catalyst. Rather than shaking in his iBoots, he prepared his company for what was to come. And he got creative.

Springboard Media, at 2212 Walnut St., began accepting trade-ins of up to $1,500 toward a new machine, which, Katzen says, accounts for 25 percent of sales. He also began handing out loaner computers to customers whose machines may need in-store service over an extended period of time. Free, post-purchase individualized workshops on both Apple/iLife and third-party products had begun.

Above all that, though, Katzen has found a way to keep his Apple products personal, working with individuals and small businesses to maintain their iWhatevers.

“After we sell [our customers] the equipment,” Katzen says, “we can deliver it, install it, make sure everything’s working properly and support it ongoing.”

In addition to that, Springboard doesn’t require appointments for customer care (Apple’s official store does) and while that’ll cost you upward of $90, it’s all applied toward labor and new parts. Springboard also delivers to Center City locations and will work to recover lost data on your Mac—something Apple Genius Bars, as they’re called in the official Apple retail stores, won’t mess around with.

Bundy Computer Company, Center City’s other independent Apple reseller, did not return calls for comment.

Springboard Media and Bundy are known as Apple Authorized Resellers or Apple Specialists and work in partnership with the company to obtain that status. Apple Specialists are a coalition of 115 small tech businesses located throughout the U.S and Canada and are connected through Apple Specialist Marketing Corporation (ASMC) in South Elgin, Ill.

ASMC has been working in conjunction with Apple since the 1990s and takes pride in the fact that it stood by Apple even as businesses began lining their cubicles with PCs. After a late ’90s surge in Apple cyber cafes, then the opening of two official retail shops in 2001 (one in McLean, Va.; the other in Glendale, Calif.), Apple began its rise to the top.

Because of this success, independent retailers have taken hits. A Northern California chain called ComputerWare went out of business after 17 years when Apple began its West Coast front. Elite Computers, another independent Apple retailer, bought ComputerWare but went out of business in 2003. It then sued Apple, claiming it failed to honor contracts and warranties and stole trade secrets from its own resellers.

Gary Allen, who runs ifoAppleStore.com, a blog dedicated to info regarding Apple stores, has a few ideas on how resellers can protect themselves.

“I’ve received emails from resellers saying ‘A store’s coming to my city. What am I going to do?’” he says. “I’ve been able to point them in a direction where at least they don’t feel alone in the experience.”

There are two types of Apple resellers, Allen says: Those that sell equipment and do repairs, and those that hold classes, install computer systems on-site, handle trade-ins and find ways to exploit Apple’s Genius Bar shortcomings—exactly what Katzen says he’s done. This is what Allen says independent resellers have to do to stay alive—to work alongside Apple and to beat it at its own game.

Apple has thrived through the Great Recession (It posted its largest profit ever, $15.7 billion, in 2010’s third quarter) because of its ability to innovate while others are slowing down, he says.

“I think [Apple’s expansion] formula has been more established now. They continue expanding … and independent companies now have to say, ‘What can we do here to co-exist?’”

Still, an Apple store’s attraction can’t be denied. Christopher Ryan, a web designer and writer at The Apple Blog, says: “What attracts people most to the store is that there is more to the Apple store than just buying. You enter the store to buy your Mac but you return to learn, as Apple has eloquently put it before. With workshops and the Genius Bar, and even social events at some of the high-profile locations, the stores exist to provide a place for people to just be.”

Katzen is confident the changes he’s brought to his store are sufficient and says there’s no ill-will toward Apple—quite the opposite—for moving into town. “[The Apple retail store is] going to bring more Mac awareness to Philadelphia. We’re one of the largest cities in the U.S. and it didn’t make sense to not have an Apple store in Philadelphia. I spent 15 years building Apple’s market share here and it’s nice to see Apple’s investing in Philadelphia.”

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