Apple using retail stores to target SMB market

A new sign of greater acceptance by business customers of Apple and the Macintosh is Cupertino's growing interest in that once 100 percent PC market. Apple is expanding its sales support operation to businesses as well as adding business-centric sections to its retail stores.

A new sign of greater acceptance by business customers of Apple and the Macintosh is Cupertino's growing interest in that once 100 percent PC market. Apple is expanding its sales support operation to businesses as well as adding business-centric sections to its retail stores.

According to Gary Allen at the IfoAppleStore blog, the new SMB (small, mid-sized) push inside the Apple Store is called Briefing Center, and Cupertino filed a trademark application for the branding. Several stores in the U.S. as well as abroad have these meeting spaces, he said.

There have been Apple Store staff focused on businesses. I met one of these reps at the Stonestown Galleria store in San Francisco a while ago, when I was buying something or fixing something. I believe his title was either a "Business Partner" or "Business Specialist." Allen reports that the Specialist title was done at the top of this year.

However, now Apple is expanding the positions.

Last May Apple posted the new position of Business Leader, who supervises Business Managers at several stores to, “forge new relationships with local businesses, manage accounts, build loyalty, and help elevate the Apple brand within the professional community.”

Apple also posted the new position of Solution Engineer, who will provide training, deliver sales presentations and create proposals for business-related customers. The engineer will also, “turn enthusiastic personal users of Apple into passionate business users of the brand.”

A reminder on the Apple Store performance from the last financial analyst call back in July. Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said that the company "hosted a record 60.5 million visitors in our stores during the quarter compared to 38.6 million visitors in the year-ago quarter, an increase of 57 percent."

If Apple wasn't seeing demand from business customers, it wouldn't be creating these new centers. The real estate in the stores is very expensive and every inch must pay its way, from the products on the shelves to the repair benches behind the scenes.

Certainly, the Apple retail storefronts have provided important sales and support operations for consumers as well as providing customers with hands-on education with Apple hardware and software. And then there are the sales of iPhones and iPods to Windows users in the stores. But it will be more about switchers in the SMB-centric Briefing Centers.

For Mac business software developers, the stores are driving switchers – still half of the Macs sold in the Apple Stores are to switchers from Windows,  Openheimern said. So, it's not just about the installed base of Mac customers, rather new users and potential customers to Mac products and Mac solutions.

With these Briefing Centers, Apple is making a big step forward towards a rich SMB market.

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