I’ve Been to Graceland

“I’m going to Graceland, Graceland
Memphis Tennessee, I’m going to Graceland.”
Paul Simon.

“The curse of human nature is imagination.
When a long-anticipated moment comes,
we always find it pitched a note too low.”
Gertrude Atherton

I’ve been to Graceland ladies and gentlemen. I’ve finally been to an actual Apple Retail store. For those of you who’ve not made it to Apple’s equivalent of Graceland, this story is for you.

Ever since the first Apple Retail stores originally opened like all Mac users who’ve been to Best Buy or CompUSA (prior to Apple installing their own sales people) I’ve been waiting to visit one myself. With the recent openings of the Apple Super stores in New York and LA along with my recent story on why I want to work at an Apple Retail store had definitely reawakened my desire to walk in to a bona fide Apple Retail store.

Last month I took a trip to the east bay area in northern California. I drove myself down I-5 from Oregon. Though the northwest has been blessed with the Pacific Ocean, the Cascade Mountains and even high desert, it has not yet been blessed with the opening of an Apple Retail store. Though, I’ve read that Apple is actively seeking the appropriate retail space in both Portland and Seattle the northwest remains without.

I made a pointed effort to make room in my schedule to find the nearest Apple Store and pay them a visit. After a couple of days I finally got my chance. I found two stores that were about equal distance from my location. I finally settled on the Valley Fair location and set out on my pilgrimage.

It was a hot day but some extra fluids helped me keep cool and I found the mall without any trouble at all. Once I found my way into the Mall I had two priorities. The first, find a restroom, the second, find the Apple Store of course. Once the first priority was taken care of (it was a long trip) the second was a might easier to accomplish.

I walked a long way but finally saw the familiar Apple Logo ahead. When I arrived at their display windows, I was transfixed by the iMac on display in the front Window. The screen was positively glowing. I just stood and stared at it, amazed at the quality of the LCD.

Finally, I stepped in front of the display window on the left side of the store. It was terrific advertisement for iPhoto a huge mobile of photos floating in the front window. Not as impressive as the iMac but still an excellent display.

I’d seen so many photos of the stores that I walked in and immediately felt at ease, even if I didn’t quite have my bearings. I moved to the left and skipped the pro section and went to the photo section as it had what I was more interested in, PowerBooks. As I rounded the glass curtain that sectioned off the photo area of the store I first noticed the new eMac. Mmmm…. this is a snappy looking machine, much more attractive than web photos reveal. I walked right up to it and tried it. Launching some apps and opening a few windows I was surprised by its performance. The only problem with this display eMac was that it was covered with a light but obviously noticeable layer of dust. That seemed odd.

Next to catch my attention was the 12-inch screen iBook. It was closed and seemed to float, imperceptibly above the counter that it rested on. The illumination of the display seemed to soften the edges, as if it was actually an iBook shaped cloud, rather than a laptop. I was duly impressed. In fact, of all the Macs I saw, it was the design that impressed me the most. No wonder these continue to sell in such wonderful numbers for Apple.

The 14-inch iBook, ironically, looked like a blob of white plastic. Don’t ask me why, it just failed to have the same subjective appeal that the lil’ iBook did.

Now, be aware, somewhere shortly after entering the store, I was approached and asked if I would like any assistance. The timing was good, I wasn’t immediately pounced on and I wasn’t left to wander aimlessly for very long. I replied that I was just looking and that I was fine. The sales person kindly retreated with a friendly smile and comment to just ask if I found I needed any assistance. It was a long while before I was approached again. I spent a long time just drinking it all in.

Most of the Macs were running very slick demos associated with the area where they were placed, be it movies, photos, kids, etc. Only one Mac in the entire store was displaying the beach ball of death. It would be fixed but it wouldn’t be until well into my hour plus I visit to the store.

While I was at the store, the theater was running all of the “Switch” ads in an endless loop. Loud enough to be noticed but not loud enough to interfere with the wide variety of well selected music being played in the store, also not too loud or interfering.

Next, a longing look at the very busy Genius bar. Busy enough that I stayed out of the way. I decided to just stroll the aisles of software. Surprisingly, I was actually disappointed by the selection. It just didn’t impress. To me, it seemed to be lacking somehow. Personally, I would have used one of the impressively tall walls to fill with software titles. Just to help dispel the fallacy that there is no software for the Mac.

I finally approached one of the new domed iMacs (the 17 inch, though announced was no where to be seen in the store). It was on one of the freestanding curved stands set away from a wall. Sadly, the positively glowing screen from the front window was nowhere to be seen inside the store. Ironically, the stands on which the iMacs were displayed were too low to allow the proper viewing angle on the beautiful LCD screen. I fiddled; I tilted but could not gain the proper viewing angle without stooping down to view the iMacs. It seemed strange that the screen could not be viewed properly while on display.

When I approached the pro section I was drawn directly to the gargantuan 23 inch HD Cinema Display. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and the huge piece of screen real estate it offered. I could EASILY dispose of my dual 19 inch monitors for a single 23-inch Cinema Display. I want it. I want it bad.

After I drug myself away from the 23 inch Cinema display a sales person with an interested customer in tow walked up to the PowerMac that was running the display. He mentioned that it burned DVDs and that he didn’t believe PCs could even do that. To which my eyes widened in complete disbelief!

What the fuck? This sounded just like a PC Lovin’ CompUSA sales person but in complete reverse! Here was an Apple employee spreading complete falsehoods about the opposing platform. The customer wisely corrected him but still. In my mind, that is NOT how to sell by lying to a customer or possibly in this case, talking out of the side of your mouth. The way to sell is to show how superior your product is to the competition. Which, when it comes to burning DVDs, the Mac is, hands down! Just open iDVD.

So what was going on? This is when I was snapped out of my Graceland stupor and I turned a more critical eye on my surroundings. I found myself viewing the store with the years of retail experience I have. Several things were lacking.

Remember that I mentioned that the eMac had a layer of dust. Easily noticed and easily taken care of with a quick wipe of a soft cloth. I’d been in the store for nearly an hour now and still hadn’t been approached a second time. (I was interrupted later at a most inopportune time by someone that barely looked old enough to dress himself, let alone have a workers permit but his timing was all wrong.) Something was now ringing in my ears… it was the store’s phone. I spun around to see all of the sales people in the store with customers though there was one at the front counter with a customer that could have easily interrupted their conversation and pick up the phone, to get a name and number and a promise too call the customer back. The phone rang and rang and rang. The caller finally gave up.

Wrong! You never let a phone ring so long the customer actually gives up. I was shocked.

A couple minutes later the phone rang again. This caller (most likely the same one) also gave up as not one sales person broke away to answer the phone. This is absolutely unforgivable. Especially since the customer at the front desk was either already rung up or wasn’t buying anything at all. You never let a phone call come in and not get picked up in retail, let alone two in a row!

Lastly, I had finally chosen just a couple small products to purchase. I decided to pick up a game and a copy of the new macHome to see what changes Cheryl had in store for the magazine. I walked up to the front counter and stood and waited and waited and waited and waited. If I was less than honest, I could have easily held my items below the level of the counter, turned and walked out the store because all of the sales people were towards the back of the store and not one was looking my way. (Another problem with the design of the store.) But instead I stood and waited. I wanted to wait and see how long before one of the sales staff noticed they had a paying customer at the counter.

I stood there long enough to begin feeling justified in just walking out the door with my products. I KNEW that sales people had seen me by this time but no one was making a move to help me out. Granted, they were all with customers but still. No one even tried to get another sales person to help me or even point me out to the one free sales person that finally appeared. Luckily, that free sales person actually noticed me.

I don’t know how long I stood there for sure… it was definitely more than five minutes but most likely less than ten but not by very much. I stood there long enough to finally put away my credit card due to feeling too vulnerable to leave it out that long. I stood there long enough for a person that has never shoplifted anything his entire life the chance to contemplate walking out not once but twice without paying!

The sales person that rung me up was apologetic once he actually helped me offered tremendous customer service. The problem was the amount of time it took for him to get to me. It was entirely far too long.

When I presented my credit card, the sales person politely asked for some photo ID. I said, “Certainly and thanks, I appreciate that.” He said that they were committed to protecting their customers. He also asked for my zip code (why he didn’t get it from my driver’s license is a mystery). I gave it to him and mentioned that I’d planned this visit as a part of my trip since there still wasn’t an Apple Store near me. He mentioned that’s why they asked for zip codes. I signed for my merchandise and left with a big smile on my face.

All in all, the visit to the Apple store was tremendous. I recommend it highly to any true Mac fans. There were some definite eye openers from my visit, especially compared with my own retail expertise.

Sadly, I never got a chance to step up to the Genius bar. It simply got busier and busier and busier the entire time I was there.

As far as visits to Graceland go I’ll call this a rousing success. Finally, Mac users have at least retail Graceland to go.

Though all is not as wonderful as it would seem. Something was wrong with my visit to the Apple Store. I’d learn later what the problem was after my “Why I Want to Work at an Apple Retail Store” was published. Be sure to stop by later once the third part of my Apple Retail odyssey is written as I got some very pointed comments about Apple’s Retail effort straight from the horses mouth.

Bob McCormick

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