Three observations for meeting planners from the Mac store

by Ben Martin, CAE on March 18, 2009 · 3 comments

In search of a replacement battery for my MacBook, I made my virgin voyage to our local Mac store here in Richmond. I use a Mac for my travel laptop, but I’m not one of those Kool-Aid drinking kind of Mac users. Yeah, I like my Mac a lot, but when I really need to bang out a spreadsheet or do serious office work, give me my desktop PC, thankyouverymuch.

But for someone with a foot in each world, I have to say, my first trip to the Mac store was a pretty remarkable experience. Three things really jumped out at me which might be applicable for you meeting planners:

  1. The place was packed, loud (but not too loud) and full of energy. It was like a party, and I felt cooler just  walking into the joint. Shoppers were talking to other shoppers and enjoying it. As best I can tell, there was no organized meetup or party scheduled. And as best I could tell, only a minority of people in the store seemed to be actually buying anything. Is it always like that? Lesson: Encourage plenty of time and space for members to just hang around, mingle with each other and staff, and have unstructured networking time at meetings.
  2. Compared to other stores, the place seemed over-staffed. So maybe I shop at the wrong stores, but I usually have trouble flagging down a helpful associate when I need one. Not at the Mac store. There must have been 10-15 employees on the floor in this 2000 square foot store. As soon as I walked in, I was able to get the attention of Dweezil, who was easily identifiable as an employee and who quickly got me the part I needed. Lesson: make it easy for attendees to recognize staff people and bring a lot of them.
  3. No cash registers. Every associate carried a Pocket PC that could scan the barcode and your credit card and handle all the back end business processes wirelessly. Pretty dang cool. But Pocket PCs in a Mac store? Double-you-tee-eff? Couldn’t they jailbreak an iPhone to run those apps? Lesson: Always be consistent with your mission and reason for being. Great way to earn authenticity points.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Pelletier March 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

On #3: Even with the inconsistency, I love this idea for meetings. Why not have staffers wired to be able to handle any special issues that come up from anywhere? Maybe it’s not practical (not likely you could print out a new name badge from your belt buckle), but there’s got to be a way to handle some of those other things you have to wait in line for this way.


Lisa Junker March 20, 2009 at 7:16 am

I was just in an Apple store for the first time this past weekend, and I saw a lot of the same things you saw. I particularly appreciated some of the options they had for hands-on interaction with their products–maybe there’s some potential inspiration there for ways associations can make that unstructured networking time you talk about in your post even more fun.

I was struck by one thing you say in your post: “Lesson: make it easy for attendees to recognize staff people and bring a lot of them.” I really have noticed since I started working at an association that uses “staff shirts” at conferences that having some kind of official staff attire makes a difference. We’re easy to identify whenever an attendee has a question or a need. I like that, and I like the way it helps us provide better customer service.

But in this economy I see a lot of associations planning to cut back on the number of staff they’re sending to events (at least the ones that involve travel). I wonder if that’s going to end up negatively impacting attendees’ perceptions of the events they attend? As you said in your post, the fact that the Apple store had a lot of sales associates on the floor was what made it easy for you to get help. If associations have fewer staff at their meetings, will that mean customer service will suffer?


Kirsten Singleton April 12, 2009 at 4:27 pm

Good post- I recently bought a Mac for a couple of reasons. I wanted to challenge my brain since I have always used PCs, and a good friend recommended I try a Mac. I went back to grad school and figured it was a good idea. I have been struck by the innovative Mac culture. I purchased 52 “one-on-one sessions” (for a grand total of $99) and have spent many hours in the store with the employees who range in age and experience from about 20-60. They are all vibrant and dynamic people. It’s just a refreshing and simple place and they are customer-centric. They teach you everything you would want to know or ask about the Mac. A good example of a company defining new playing fields at which people will want to play. You’re right about the attitude in the store and their cool cash register-less system made it surprisingly un-traumatic for me to cough up $1200 for my new laptop! It’s been a great experience and I urge everyone to make radical changes from time to time and see what else is out there.


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