Increase Apple Store Sales in Germantown

4 August 2006

Once upon a time I owned an awarding-winning computer dealership in Memphis, TN. Part of that time we were the leading reseller of Apple products in the area. With a degree in electrical engineering and thirty years of technology industry experience, I’m not completely clueless about technology, obsolescence (whether technical, functional or economic) or sales techniques.

Apple stores could achieve a sales increase of at least fifteen percent with some relatively simple attitude adjustments. First, make sure Apple store employees don’t treat customers as second-class beings. Second, make sure Apple store employees don’t dress like homeless people. Third, make sure Apple store managers don’t look like they are in a drug-induced stupor. Finally, teach Apple store employees to ask just a few simple questions, clarify the answers, empathize just a bit and then offer some suggestions. You see, Apple stores, it’s not about you. It’s about your customers and prospects! Shut up and listen to them!

What set me off? An incident approximately one hour ago at the Apple store in Germantown, TN has frosted me. I’ll tell the story, but some background is needed.

This city and county are having a sales tax holiday beginning tomorrow and running through Sunday. That amounts to a savings of 9.25% on stuff like computers.

Because one of my daughters works in one of those ultra-creative fields, she wants a Mac like many of her compatriots. What better weekend to buy at the Apple store than during a weekend when the 9.25% sales tax is suspended?

Here’s what she wants to buy:

  • 2Ghz white Apple MacBook $1299.00
  • AppleCare for the MacBook $249.00
  • Apple Mighty Mouse $49.00

Add Apple’s Back-to-School Promotion to all of this, and she could wind up with an iPod Nano as part of the deal. However, two of Apple’s (obnoxious) Germantown store employees weren’t able to listen carefully to this question:

What if she buys the Mac tomorrow to take advantage of Tennessee’s sales tax holiday and Apple announces something on Tuesday she return the unopened box for a full credit?

Apple store employee #1 responded with, “we’re not aware of nor are we allowed to comment on any upcoming product announcements.” I know that. Can I return the computer on Tuesday for a full credit and buy whatever newly announced machine better suits her needs? Apple store employee #1 responded with, “we won’t be able to honor the sales tax holiday?” I know that. Can she return the unopened computer for full credit five days after buying it? Apple store employee #1 says, “that’s a question that will have to be answered by someone else; I’m not the one who makes our policies.” Clearly, she not only doesn’t make the policies, she doesn’t have any idea what the policies are.

I then ask her to point me to someone who can answer my questions. Apple store employee #1 says, “only the store manager can answer your questions.” Is the store manager here? In quite a huff Apple store employee #1 says, “I’ll go find her, and walks—I kid you not—three steps to a woman straightening accessory shelves. “This man wants to buy a Mac without paying sales tax and then get credit for it on Tuesday with the sales tax included.”

I’m not making this up. That’s what she said. The store manager then looks at me and says, “no.” After some explanation and corrections to my question, I finally get this answer, “all returns of unopened cartons will be credited with a deduction for a 10% restocking fee.” So, here’s how that scenario looks if Apple announces a new and improved MacBook on Tuesday with exactly the same price as the current one:

The $1597 price—if I buy tomorrow—saves me $147.62 in sales tax. Return it on Tuesday and Apple keeps $159.70 as a restocking fee. I pay the $1597 for some new product and owe the $147.62 of sales tax because the “holiday” is over. So, Apple has cost me $307.32 that I could use to buy external drives, cases, software, memory, etc. Through it all I’ve dealt with people who don’t give two hoots in Hades about me, my daughter, her needs or our business.

Two web sites I read regularly are written by James Lileks and John Gruber. Both are Apple loyalists. How in the world do they get straight answers to simple questions when visiting Apple’s stores?

The experience this evening makes me realize that there are reasons beyond technical lock-in that breaks the bough! That was Mark Pilgrim’s reason. Obtuse answers and obnoxious treatment are mine. I’ll avoid Apple at all costs. The daughter will get what she wants, but it won’t be because the employees in the Apple store in Germantown, TN want her to have what she wants or show any willingness to make the sales process a pleasant experience!

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Thinking About the Year

31 December 2005

Everybody’s doing stories about the stories of the year. Things that caught our attention this past year are in the news again. Past is prologue.

What will (or should) catch our attention in the new year called 2006? Here are local, national and global stories that came to mind this morning:

  • Hurricanes on the US gulf coast have created ongoing needs.
  • Tsunami recovery efforts remain.
  • Murders In MemphisMurders in Memphis continue at rates not seen in bigger places.
  • The Tennessee Waltz goes on and on.
  • After 88 years in business a local bicycle shop is closing in 2006.
  • The Wall Street Journal listed the actors/movies that Jeff Daniels watches over and over to improve his skill: Alan Arkin in The In-Laws, Eddie Bracken in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson. It seems the star of Dumb and Dumber might have been acting! [Thanks to Lauren Mechling of the Wall Street Journal for the insight.]
  • Bill Miller of Legg Mason managed a mutual fund so that for the fifteenth consecutive year he beat the S&P500. No other mutual fund manager has done that.
  • What can I do to help Wal-Mart with quality and customer service?
  • Someone used the term “junior seniors” this week to refer to people aged 55-64. Demographics are becoming more important. Young folk may see their forays into age discrimination come back to haunt them.
  • A minister wrongfully dismissed from a smallish church after 21 years of faithful service now ministers in a church over twenty times the size of the former one. Life loops. Good wins. God is good.
  • Natural gas prices continue to escalate in Memphis. I wonder what a normal annual inventory turnover rate is for Memphis Light, Gas & Water?
  • In 2006 some more CEO’s will discover that employees and investors and customers expect more from them than celebrity, financial engineering and high profile shenanigans. Run the business, please.


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Just As I Suspected

23 December 2005

Memphis owns and operates its own public utility company which sells or resells electricity, natural gas and water. Along with those services we get sewer services and some billing of other city services.

The utility is called MLG&W and it can only be mismanaged. It cannot lose money if properly managed.

So, quite predictably, they raised rates on natural gas in the same month that Memphis has its coldest (coolest) temperatures. Not only is your utility bill higher because of consumption, but it is also higher because of new rates.

Here’s a web site devoted to all the maladies that make Memphis so special.

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They Are Fleeing

21 December 2005

Memphis, Tennessee is in Shelby County. This county is bordered on the west by the Mississippi River and Arkansas. On the south it is bordered by Mississippi. It’s a city that is flagging in spite of superficial signs of progress.

Memphis is dealing with political corruption that is as bad as at any point in its history. Within the city limits we pay a county property tax as well as the city’s property tax. Poorly run government causes the tax rate to go up each year. Greed makes the property assessment go up as well. No one has been able to peg the level of taxation that is due to corruption. Whatever the case, people are fleeing.

The impressions have been there for a while. Now, the data is coming in. The local newspaper, called The Commercial Appeal, documented another round of citizens fleeing the city and the county. You can read about it in this article [free subscription may be required].

Here’s an example of just how bad it has become:

The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday estimated that Shelby’s median household income dropped from $41,048 to $39,099 between 2000 and 2003, while Tennessee as a whole and several surrounding counties had gains.

Those are 2003 numbers. Expect those trends to accelerate when 2004, 2005 and 2006 numbers are examined.

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The Bluff City

20 December 2005

Memphis sits on the high river bluffs on the banks of the Mississippi River. Known as the “Bluff City,” the city is viewed by cynics as a place where bluff city refers to an attitude.

The wannabes in Memphis—typically new money—frequently turn any traditional event or activity into a place to be seen by their latte-sipping, Lexus-driving friends. Nowhere is this easier to find than at the theater. Whether an opera, symphony, ballet or Broadway show, the wannabes want to be seen.

Here’s a tip: get to your seat before the show starts and get back into that seat before intermission ends. You’re annoying enough as it is. It’s simply rude and ignorant behavior to be walking to the front of a theater and sliding into your row five seat when little kids are trying to see the stage. You are what you are; there’s no bluffing your way through that.


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