Sydney’s Mac community will soon have a high tech customer learning and support centre inspired by Apple’s own flagship retail stores. But unlike existing Apple customer lounges – which boast theatrettes and ‘Genius Bar’ helpdesks – the Taylor Square Academy is a reseller initiative, rather than one of Apple’s own direct stores.
The Taylor Square Academy, slated to open by June 1, is the brainchild of Apple Centre Taylor Square director, Ben Morgan. The two-storey facility will adjoin the current store in Sydney’s inner city shopping district of Darlinghurst, giving the shop 350m of street frontage. It will boast a 300sqm showroom, a 35-seat cinema with digital projector and THX surround sound, and a walk-up technical support desk modeled on Apple’s own in-store Genius Bar. The upstairs will be occupied by a service centre.
Morgan said the idea for the Academy was inspired by Apple’s moves to incorporate training and support into the retail experience. Rather than waiting for Apple to open up a similar facility, Morgan said he’d decided to co-opt the idea for his Apple Centre. The reseller was investing in the customer lounge in order to combat the discount war in the Apple channel, he said. The Academy would provide a high profile differentiator for the Taylor Square shop.
“We’re revitalising the Apple Centre model,” Morgan said. “It will work with the additional training, support and certification of our customers.” He declined to reveal how much the Apple Centre was investing in the new facility, but said he hadapproached Apple Australia to support the facility.
Morgan claimed the two-storey site would be the first full-featured learning and support facility for Apple users in Australia.
The Academy would signal the start of a growth burst for the Apple Centre, he said. The business had grown its revenue by 800 per cent over the past two-and-a-half years.
The Academy facilities will be primarily for Apple Centre Taylor Square customers, although paid memberships will be available. Morgan said a wireless internet lounge with free drinks would be among the benefits for customers, but the emphasis would be on pre-sales demos and education rather than a dedicated internet café or drop in destination.
The Apple Centre would offer Apple training and certifications to customers and, in tim,e planned to offer accreditations for other vendors, Morgan said.
Vendors including Adobe, Macromedia and Microsoft were already behind the Academy, he said.
The lease has been signed on the new premises, and the reseller will occupy in May ahead of the June opening. Customers will be issued with membership cards to access the lounge facility.
The Apple Centre will relocate its service centre to the top floor of the new building, which will house up to 10 technicians. The business currently employs three techs.
Morgan hoped the increased capacity for the service business would help fund the customer lounge.
Staffing levels at the expanded Taylor Square facility were expected to stay at the current level of 15 staff for the first six months, he said. Morgan is one of many Apple dealers around the world who has watched the rise of Apple’s direct retail presence in the US. While Apple certainly isn’t alone in exploring the direct route alongside IT vendors such as HP, Apple dealers are in a unique position in that their business is heavily dependent on the one vendor.
The Apple stores expanded beyond US shores in November when a five-floor retail, education and support site opened in Tokyo. Another store is slated to open soon in London.
Australian dealers, including Morgan, have speculated that Sydney might also be a target for Apple’s direct shopfront intiative. Apple Australia was unable to provide comment by the press deadline.