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Columns & Editorials

August 15th, 1998

The iMac Rollout
Report by: Bryan Chaffin
August 15, 1998

We were able to spend a few hours at CompUSA's iMac rollout in Austin, TX on Saturday morning. From the moment we entered you could tell there was a party atmosphere in the store. The GM had thought to provide donuts and coffee for customers and employees, and this added to the welcoming feeling. The Store-Within-A-Store was clearly evident from the moment we walked in due to the balloons, the Think Different banners, and the new beautiful iMac banner hanging from the ceiling.

One thing that simply can not be overstated is how cool the iMac looks. We have been looking at pictures of the iMac since its announcements and even still we were not prepared for how attractive it is in person. The Bondi-Blue sides are now a nice matte finish and the other Bondi-Blue aspects are very shiny. These combine with the shape to make something that is almost consuming in its coolness. You just want to keep looking at it, to touch it, and more than anything, to do something on it.

We were able to talk to representatives from several companies including Apple, FileMaker, Epson, and CompUSA. All of them were very excited about Apple in general and the iMac in particular. We also spoke to some of the customers who were lining up to see and buy this incredible new computer. These customers were a curious mix of Mac users looking to upgrade, Mac fanatics wishing to cheer Apple on, PC users who were thinking of making The Switch, and the curious who were wondering what 15 other people were staring at. In fact, there was a constant crowd of 10-17 people crowding around the single demonstration unit (all other units for sale were being kept in boxes). The closest thing we have ever seen to the interest and excitement surrounding the iMac was the demonstration of a brand new Windows game such as Quake II or Unreal, and those paled in comparison.

One customer who showed up before the store opened had ordered his iMac 3 weeks ago. Marv Allen, a 60-something PC user, commented that he liked the looks of the new computer. "Mac has always had the reputation of being THE computer to use for graphics. I presume that this is going to work as well as the old ones." Marv had some questions about the upgradability of the iMac, which has no PCI slots and no drive bays, but was nevertheless impressed with it. His wife, who seemed somewhat more cynical, expressed some enthusiasm at the idea of being able to run her Win95 software on the iMac through Virtual PC.

Andrew, who was there to upgrade from his Performa 631 CD, said that the most appealing thing about the iMac was that "it doesn't look like anything else. You can have it out it in the living room and not have an eyesore with cables and everything else." While unsure at the time of our interview of whether he would buy one, within 20 minutes Andrew had purchased an iMac.

Daniel Ramos is an Apple K-12 account manager who was volunteering today to help the CompUSA staff deal with the onslaught of customers. He demonstrated the iMac to interested customers for over 45 minutes. He said that many of those people were PC users asking why using the iMac was easier, how fast it was, what USB meant (Universal Serial Bus, the new industry-standard technology Apple is using for connecting peripherals), and whether they could run Windows software on the iMac. He also told us that the iMac has been a huge success in the education market with sales surpassing the 150,000 retail units pre-sold through last week. Webintosh (The Mac Observer) is trying to confirm this through official Apple spokespeople. As a side note, Artemis was also a big success in education. Mr. Ramos says that the education sector loves the all-in-one designs like iMac and Artemis because of the simplicity and lack of excess cables that are often lost, stolen, or damaged by students.

On the commercial side, the two entities who are benefiting most from the iMac are Apple itself and CompUSA. CompUSA is Apple's only national reseller and had the first Apple Stores-Within-A-Store. CompUSA used to be the object of many complaints from frustrated Mac consumers who would seldom find working Macintoshes in the stores, and those that were there were often outdated machines. It was this trend that spurred Steve Jobs and Apple to eliminate their retail relationships with all national resellers except CompUSA. With the Store-Within-A-Store introduction, the situation improved greatly, but there have been consistent complaints throughout the country of not being able to find knowledgeable sales persons manning the Stores.

In the location we visited today, Robert Arons, the new Retail Manager, has taken many steps to eliminate this perception. Mr. Arons worked previously at Circuit City where there are no Macintosh computers. He was somewhat ignorant of the Mac, but he saw the potential that the Mac market held for him and CompUSA. He has hired and trained more Mac Specialists like Chris Calfee who has in turn worked hard to keep the Store-Within-A-Store organized and stocked. He also took the time to attend a local Macintosh User Group to tell them of his commitment and efforts in making his Store-Within-A-Store more Mac friendly than ever. The result has been more sales and more profit for Mr. Arons. In addition, his unit had more pre-orders of the iMac than any other store in the Southwest division of CompUSA.

To Mr. Arons, the iMac brings to CompUSA the opportunity to show the Mac world their commitment to the Macintosh platform. He feels that if CompUSA can execute their strategy successfully, they will become the largest Mac sales outlet in the world. Jim Halpin, the president of CompUSA has said that the iMac represents the largest hardware introduction in their history. With sales of iMac and related merchandise generating somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars for this location (our estimate) on a summer weekend, it is easy to understand why CompUSA and Robert Arons are getting so excited.

Susan Baron is the Apple Power Rep for CompUSA in Southeast Texas and Jackson, Mississippi. She used to represent Apple at many different locations such as Computer City, Sears, and Office Max in addition to CompUSA before Apple severed their relationships with the other retailers. Describing her treatment by the people she worked with in the outlets as ugly and brutal in those days, she says she is now treated like royalty by the CompUSA staff. Apple's turnaround and progress is not measured just by profit and loss statements. Susan sees it in the fact that she is no longer constantly bombarded by claims that Apple is about to fold by the very people who's job is to sell Apple's hardware and Macintosh software. The difference this makes to consumers is evident by the increasing sales at CompUSA in the months since the Store rollout.

What may also bode well for the market are the other manufacturers who are seeing increased revenues from Apple's return to success. Mike Ploeger is the Epson rep for CompUSA in this part of Texas. He reports that he expects from 50-70 Epson printers to be sold this weekend at the Austin location. Normally he would see from 20-30 move through the doors. These increased sales are directly attributable to sales of iMacs in cooperation with CompUSA's giveaway of a free connector cable when the printer is purchased with the iMac this weekend. There is nothing better for Apple and the Mac market than other companies seeing increase of sales of Mac products. This will move more manufacturers to the platform, which will offer more consumers more choices, etc.

One loser in the iMac's introduction may be FileMaker, Inc. Their flagship product, FileMaker Pro was originally supposed to be bundled with the iMac but was ditched later. The maker of the standalone database application with the largest market share has been reportedly having shrinking pains. Market share for FileMaker Pro itself has been growing, but the transition from being the software marketing and distribution arm of Apple to being just the marketer of what is arguably the world's easiest to use database application has been a difficult one. Chelanie Israel is FileMaker, Inc.'s local rep as well as a FileMaker freelance consultant. She denied any problems at the company and says FileMaker, Inc, is very excited about the iMac. They see the unit bringing more customers to them anyway, despite the lack of a bundling agreement.

We saw so many happy customers walking out of CompUSA with smiles on their faces, it was simply amazing. The store's staff was happy, the various company reps were happy, and the customers were happy.

It is no wonder, too. This location had 72 iMacs delivered on Friday, August 14th. More than 60 of those were pre-sold before they even arrived, and all 72 had been sold by 11:00 AM, when another shipment of 72 arrived from the factory. They immediately began to be snatched up by waiting customers and will likely sell before tomorrow is over. Numbers like these are good news for everyone in the Mac market.

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