Microsoft has announced the locations of its first two retail stores, advised by Apple’s prior retail guru. And one of the two stores will be in direct, proximate competition with an Apple retail outlet.
The first two stores in Microsoft’s new retail venture will be in Mission Viejo, CA and Scottsdale, AR. Though the Scottsdale store is not near an existing Apple store, the Mission Viejo Microsoft store will be in a shopping center, The Shops, which already contains an established Apple retail location. And thus does the Apple vs. Microsoft retail war begin.
Microsoft is being advised by retail expert George Blankenship, the same man that worked with Apple executives to chart the early course of the Apple retail outlets. Blankenship spent 20 years planning and managing the retail spaces of The Gap. Steve Jobs was at that time on the board of The Gap, where he met Blankenship and convinced him to head Apple’s retail efforts.
Under Blankenship’s tutelage, Apple was extremely aggressive in store placement, insisting on placing stores in the highest-traffic areas and often in locations that were considered the most upscale shopping districts. The original Tokyo flagship store for Apple, as an example, was opened in the Ginza fashion district rather than in the Akihabara technology district. Apple, acting on Blankenship’s advice, counted on sheer retail volume to cover any costs associated with operating stores in such upscale locations.
As much as is possible, the current Microsoft plans, which were leaked in some detail a week ago, look like an almost complete copy of the planning that Blankenship did for Apple, according to an AppleInsider story. They have the same clean look, and even are copying such operational details as the Apple Guru Bar, although that will be called the Answers or Windows bar in the Microsoft stores.
It is as yet unknown how well a direct ripoff of the Apple retail strategy will work for Microsoft. Apple is known for beautifully designed products combined with technical superiority, which is hardly the reputation garnered to date by Microsoft’s stodgy product lines and abject marketing failures. Still, it should be interesting to see what the public mind will buy into when faced with location, location, location.