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Rodney's Soapbox
by Rodney O. Lain

Evangelist’s Diary #1: ‘Forget Circuit City… I’m Working At Micro Center!’
September 8th, 2000

Once you attach your personality to a proposition, people start reacting.


Find something you like to do and make it pay

Harvey Mackay, _Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive_


A really pleasant thing happened to me today. I went to Burger King.

At the drive-thru, I ordered a #3 combo ("no onions, no tomatoes, please!"). I then went to the first window, paid by check, and went to the second window. I was handed my burger, fries, and drink.

As I put the truck in "drive," about to head home for lunch, the guy at the window stopped me.

"Do you need any catsup or salt?" he asked.

Shocked, I didn’t know what to say, but I managed to stammer, "No, I don’t need any; I’m taking it home, and can use what we have there. Thanks for asking, though!"

I was shocked because I always have to practically beg for catsup and salt. Usually, I’m down the street before I check my bag and see that there isn’t any in there. Sometimes, if I’m in a really bad mood when I remember to ask for it, I leave the fast-food folks standing there with their mouths hanging open when I shout, "you people act like there is a f***ing tomato famine!"

Sure, they save a few million a year by only giving condiments on request, but that money would be well spent if they just gave us what that kid gave me: service and attention.

Some computer stores could learn from that kid. Many need to learn from that kid. Heck, Micro Center could teach that kid.

If there is a Micro Center computer store in your area, that is where you need to take all of your Macintosh business. Here’s why.

This summer, I’d given up on being a "professional Mac evangelist." Actually, it’d been longer than that.

You see, for some time now, I’d been the "Mac guy" at a local computer store. I was the one you would have been referred to if you were nosing around for anything with an Apple logo on it. I didn’t hate the job. It was fun, a welcome contrast to my suit-and-tie day job.

But, I’d gotten to the point where I’d felt that I’d fought the Good Fight. The store, CompUSA, now boasts some solid Mac guys and a few who at least tolerated the platform and the customers that it attracts. It had none of that before I came aboard — not that I had anything to do with that.

But, if I did have anything to do with the above, I have much of which to be proud.

I talked to the store manager by phone, telling him that it was time for me to move on. He told me they’d miss me and wished me well. I then looked forward to settling down to a life in which my weekends were my own for the first time in a long time.

I pulled my had down, preparing to ride into the sunset, following the lead of my wanderlust. My ride was to be a short one, I discovered.


Enter Micro Center: ‘The Computer Department Store’

"If there is a Micro Center near you, shop there," was the refrain I often heard on Mac mailing lists. I’d never been to a Micro Center, so I hadn’t the pleasure of knowing their shopping experience, until about one week ago.

I was heading north on Minnesota State Highway 100, passing through the west Minneapolis suburb named St. Louis Park. To the left, right below Interstate 394, I saw a storefront with a black-lettered "Micro Center" sign on the front. I didn’t remember seeing that store all of the other times I’d driven that route, but I was sure I’d heard that name mentioned once before as a good place to find Mac stuff, so I pulled into the lot to check them out.

The store wasn’t open, I discovered (it isn’t until a few more weeks before the Minnesota grand opening), so I went into the side entrance, where everyone seemed to be headed. I talked to the General Manager, and I met the Retail Manager. To be honest, they impressed me, but there was something else that really caught my attention.

During my tour, I saw that there wasn’t just a Mac section in the back corner, á la CompUSA, there was actually a respectable-looking, immaculate Mac Department. Actually, they call it a "store within a store." Sounds familiar? It should, since Micro Center was doing the Apple store-within-a-store concept long before it was even a gleam in some CompUSA exec’s eye.

As I type this, I’m sitting here at Micro Center, waiting for a sales-training class to begin. I just finished walking through the Mac section, and I must say I am amazed. I have never seen a store that stocks copies of supposedly esoteric Mac titles like WebObjects, Final Cut Pro, and VirualPC Linux, to name a few. How many of you can boast a store in your area that has nearly every kind of Macintosh FireWire peripheral you can name? Maybe you are used to such things, but for those of us here in the Midwest hinterlands, it is a beautiful thing…

God, this place has a section of Mac software that is tempting me to burn all of my Mac Mall and Mac Warehouse catalogs. And look at the "PC" software! Each aisle is labeled, as most store aisles are. But what is different here is where the software is on "hybrid" CD-ROMs — Windows and Macintosh versions on the same disk — the signage indicates this. I noticed this when browsing sections like the Education aisle.


A disclaimer

I don’t need Micro Center’s money. I’m playing for the love of the game, if you will.

I’m fortunate enough to have a day job that pays the bills. My working at this store is my service to The Community. Many people talk about evangelizing the Mac. Hell, I do it. Been there; done that; bought the T-shirt. I worked at Best Buy when they had iMacs. I quit before they stopped carrying them (I saw that handwriting on the wall). I was at CompUSA as they wrapped their minds around the idea of being the sole nationwide provider of Apple hardware. Now, I’m here.

So, I think what I say has at least a modicum of credibility.

You’ve never heard of Micro Center? Well, here’s the deal…


Micro Center, at a glance

Founded in 1980, Micro Center has 18 stores in 12 states (check out this link to see if there’s one near you: The one I’ve signed on with is the first in Minnesota.

Here’s how they’re set up in nearly every store: in the center of the store reside the software aisles. Now, imagine a path, beginning at the front door and forming a circle around the software aisles. On the outer rim of that circle sits the main departments (going clockwise):

  1. Furniture: computer desks, ergonomic chairs, etc.
  2. Book store: forget Barnes & Noble. Here, you can find Mac books, MCSE books, mathematics books, programming books, engineering books...
  3. Macintosh: Shelves of software, shelves of peripherals. Along the walls are sections for iMacs, iBooks, PowerBooks, G4s, respectively.
  4. PC name brands: you don’t wanna hear about this, do you?
  5. Digital video
  6. Customer service
  7. Technical support: yes, technical support. Micro Center has walk-in tech support. You can walk in with any question. ANY question.

Now, for the things that attracted me:

  1. 30-day return policy on ALL products (there’s probably exceptions) -- even software — opened or unopened. Don’t let me tell you how this never happens at other stores.
  2. 30-day refund policy on purchases bought just before a price reduction or a new releases. Just bought a G4 single process and now the same item is on sale to make way for the multi-processing models? You are refunded the difference between the sale price and the price you paid, if you bought it within 30 days.
  3. Their ads always have Mac stuff featured. I have a few of their ads before me as I write. Each one has along the bottom of the front page an index of sorts — PC Systems on Page 12-13, Peripherals on Pages 11, 14-26. And right there is "Macintosh OS, Page 27." The ad gives the impression that there is only one page with Mac stuff, but what I see here is ALL of page 27 covered with Macs, iMacs, iBooks, printers, etc., but also page 26 as Mac accessories. Then, looking in the software section, Mac titles are listed there, as well as having the Macintosh hardware line listed among the "PC Systems" page.
  4. Knowledgeable computer-sales staff. For many companies, that’s an oxymoron. Not in this case. I’ve had more training in the last week that I got at any store I’ve worked for. Micro Center’s reputation consists of sales people who know their stuff.
  5. The Mac sales people don’t ever have to look at a PC. I will never have be in the PC section for a sale. I’m Mac sales, period.
  6. Professional atmosphere. I have to wear a suit and tie. The training sessions were led by managers from other stores across the country.
  7. They don’t want a store on every street corner. Slow growth appears to be the order of the day. I hope and pray they keep that approach. I think Best Buy’s weakness is having so damned many stores.
  8. They stress customer service. Other stores would kill for Micro Center’s customer loyalty. Ditto for their training manuals, for that matter. I have a very sensitive B. S. detector, so I can confidently tell you that Micro Center is the real McCoy.
  9. Pricing: yeah, this is what you really want me to mention. Their prices are the same as everyone else. If you’re like me, you must be getting cynical by now. No one gives you all of that good stuff with raising prices. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Why brag about a mere store?

The idea to write this column stems from the latest news surrounding the lack of applicants for Apple Demo Days at Circuit City. No offense to Circuit City, but I’d never give them my money. I remember, back in 1997, going into a Circuit City, inquiring about Mac software. The sales guy laughed at my question (he appears to have been trained by Best Buy).

I would have blown that off as a single occurrence, but this was my reception at many of there locations, along with reports from other Mac users that I know. The only company from which I will put up with such disrespect and lousy service is Apple Computer, if you know what I mean — and I think you do :-)

The model for Mac and Pee Cee sales

I don’t like Micro Center from merely the perspective of a Mac customer. I like them from the perspective of a customer who wants to be schmoozed, wooed and catered to. Why can’t retail stores get this?

We Mac users are paranoid of sales people anyway, given their track record vis-á-vis things Macintosh.

If Micro Center continues to grow as it has, I think the rest of the computer retailers will have to be afraid, very afraid.

And I’d be saying this, even if I didn’t work there.

Your comments are welcomed.

Most Recent Columns From Rodney's Soapbox

Evangelist’s Diary #1: ‘Forget Circuit City… I’m Working At Micro Center!’
September 8th

Shhh! Shhhh! Don't Evangelize The Mac!
August 25th

It Never Was The 'Computer For The Rest Of Us'
August 11th

Rodney's Soapbox Archives

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Rodney O. Lain ( first used an Apple computer to learn BASIC in 1980-81. He used PCs from the late 1980s until 1995, where he was forced to teach a college writing course with the assistance of Windows 95 machines. After noticing that the all-Mac lab next door didn’t have five computers crashing every day, he bought his first Power Macintosh, back when educator’s discounts were true discounts. It’s been OS bliss ever since. Having worked as a college prof, a journalist, and a tech-support specialist, he currently is a manager at major shipping-and-logistics corporation. He currently lives in Minnesota with his wife, who has finally accepted the fact that her husband has a relationship with his PowerBook G3 that borders on the sexual.

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