In the name of Jobs! The Apple experience hits the Triad

by Ryan Snyder

“Welcome home” is a phrase usually directed towards war veterans, hospital patients, “Extreme Home Makeover” families and Roxy Carmichael, but it appears that it’s been co-opted by the shepherds of the technorati as they beckon the flock to their own digital Mecca. It was shouted it toward a tiredlooking crowd of God-knows-howmany wrapped around the 3000 block of the Shoppes at Friendly Square, while his 50-odd employees chanted, hooted and hollered out of sheer exuberation. Why? Greensboro’s new Apple Store was opening its doors for the first time, of course. Announced in late 2007, construction of the 5873 square foot facility was delayed, allegedly because building owner CBL Properties have wrangled with Apple over exactly which space the computer giant’s retail store ought to occupy. According to an anonymous poster on local blogger Ed Cone’s site, CBL “thought Apple was just another computer store” and thus, they didn’t exactly merit one of the juiciest storefronts in the über-trendy Friendly Avenue shopping center. Clearly, CBL executives have never been to an Apple Store opening and are oblivious to the cultish consumer base this company has created. Those who have bought into the religion of the sleek, almost sterile-looking tech toys would never confuse it with “just another computer store.” The force is indeed strong in these fanboys; if all the verification you need isn’t found in “The Simpsons” send-up “Mypods and Broomsticks,” just ask the first guy in line for this particular store opening. Ian, he called himself, came from Raleigh with two of his best buds and the trio’s dedication to all things Macintosh was beyond reproach. They started the line to the new store at around 6 p.m. the previous Friday evening, sitting in fold-out chairs and anxiously awaiting their sixth Apple Store opening. Yes, I did say it was their sixth. Ian proudly displayed his T-shirt emblazoned with the previous five locations whose cherry he helped break, the farthest away being in Naples, Fla. of all places. I was a bit dubious on that assertion until I found video evidence on MetaCafe, showing him in his thick glasses and electric orange baseball cap speaking to a sales associate, undoubtedly about why the cross platform compatibility of iTunes makes the iPod far superior to Microsoft’s Zune. I won’t even get into the battery life discussion. With such a carnivalesque atmosphere surrounding these openings, it’s not hard to understand the attraction. In anticipation of the throngs ready to pour through the door, store employees worked themselves into customer service frenzies by singing Mac-themed madrigals and odes to Steve Jobs. They shuffled back and forth nervously between the store front and stock room, which I imagine contained a vat of Apple-flavored Kool Aid from which the crew drank to sustain their aberrant enthusiasm. The fanfare culminated just before the 10 a.m. bell marked the store opening, with the entire staff, management and corporate envoys bursting out of the building’s rear exit to meet the line, which was easily over 500 by this time. There were hand claps, high-fives and handshakes liberally doled out as the hullabaloo reached critical mass, until the release finally came with the open door. Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” blared above the din as people poured in, each receiving their very own XL Apple shirt, which is odd, because I was under the impression that all Mac users of a more svelte, sylphlike proportion. The store’s very first sale was rang up by a tall, goodlooking Specialist (they all have rather quirky job titles) name Karli on her hand-held scanner, since Apple has risen above the traditional point-of-sale model. It wasn’t a fancy iPhone or a tricked out MacBook Air, but a rather innocuous iPod headset that the buyer got in line at 1:45 a.m. to purchase. It’s hard to imagine that sort of dedication springing from “just another computer store.” It’s easy to see why Business Week named Apple among its Top 25 Customer Service Champs, however (number 20, to be exact). Their model obliterates whatever Best Buy passes off as their sales experience these days. Sure, a sticker slapped over an LED screen comes pretty darn close in helping shoppers make informed mobile-phone decisions as actually using a live unit does. But it’s hard to make last second adjustments to your Fantasy Baseball roster with a pretty picture. The draw of Apple doesn’t end there by any means. The entire staff was practically foaming at the mouth to bring a newpatron into the fold, doting on them with the spiritual experience thatcomes with the embrace of their radically innovative product line.Their color-coded shirts make tracking down the proper personnel allthe less arduous. Aqua blue designates the Specialist, the retail salesgrunts; royal blue is reserved for the Creatives and Geniuses, or thedesign and technical gurus; while Concierges wear bright orange shirts.Their exact job description, however, was a little more ambiguous, butI think it had something to do with hot towels and seeing that everyshopper’s experience came with a happy ending. That in and of it self might lend new meaning to the term customer “service.”