The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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A Retail Computer Store? You Gotta Be Kidding!! (Why open a retail computer store)
by Jim Dunion, Ron Roberts

graphic of page



by Jim Dunion and Ron Roberts*


The doors are boarded up now, and the raging mob seems to have subsided. For
awhile at least I'm safe. The light is flickering low on this, my last candle,
and I realize that time grows short for me to put these thoughts onto paper. For
tomorrow brings a new day, a new mob, a new call from David Ahl wondering where
this article is. Time indeed, grows short. One year in the retail computer store
business. One year. Is it possible that only a year ago this madness descended
upon me? That only a year ago I was a reasonably happy, nonchalant student,
quietly pursuing a graduate degree in computer science and then -ah- but now I'm
getting ahead of myself. First of all, what we're talking about is retail
computer stores in general, and the experiences of one such store, The Computer
Systemcenter, in particular. What we have seen in this past year is no less than
the birth of an industry. Now, with a full year under our belt, it is time for
the first self-assessment. Retail computer stores - from where did they come,
how have they developed, and where are they going? While we certainly can't
speak for all stores, we can provide insight to the structure and events
surrounding one such store's existence.


In recent years, there has been an increasing tendency for technology to advance
faster than society can adapt to its changes, a fact particularly visible within
the field of solid state electronics. Most of those involved in either
electronics or computer technology are aware of the recent and continuing
advancements which have led to the development of the "computer on a chip."
Although the implications of readily available low cost computer power have been
discussed many times in many different forums, it has been almost invariably
within technical, non-public circles. For the general public the usual
interaction with any form of computer technology has been via the "DO NOT FOLD,
STAPLE, OR MUTILATE" admonishment. To John Q. American, it has little mattered
whether the phone company used their 1st, 3rd or 300th generation equipment to
produce his bill. To him, a bill is a bill, and due to the aloofness and mystery
which has always surrounded it, a computer is a computer. 

With the advent of the microprocessor, however, this public perception of
computers began to change. The availability of the personal computer as a
consumer item  initiated tremendous strides towards public enlightenment of the
computer as a useful, entertaining tool. Now, computer stores are everywhere,
hobbyists clubs exist in almost every major city, and news coverage and public
visibility is swelling on a national, even worldwide, basis. 

But it was not always like this. When Dick and Lois Heiser pioneered the first
computer store in southern California in the fall of 1975, every move was a
gamble. How was the public going to react? Was the initial surge due to a
sincere interest, or due to a shortlived "fad."After just beginning to recover
from a nationwide recession, would the public climb upon an expensive, yet
unproven movement? And the equipment! Could it be obtained? Would it work? Could
it be kept working? While the popular computer concept was dawning, the task
remained to acquaint and convince the public of its existence and stability.
Sure, there were a few computer clubs around, but they were technically slanted
away from the typical consumer. Already existing, too, were the professional
computer societies, but they had (and still have) no room for the novice. Some
popular computer publications were around, but very few people knew of these.
And buying a computer by mail-order? Unassembled? My face still pales at the

Where oh where, then, was the solution? What structure could tie down the loose
ends, and present a united, uncomplicated front to the consumer? Obviously,(NOW
its obvious) the retail computer store. The revolution was underway!

A retail computer store? At first the idea seems incredible, but why not? The
equipment is available, it is priced at levels that consumers can afford, and
the applications are endless. With this challenge in mind, and with the four
partners crossing their fingers, the enterprise known as The Computer
Systemcenter came to life. Being an unprecedented concept, there were no
guidelines to be used in formulating this marketing strategy, no viable way to
survey public interest, no anything but talent, enthusiasm and ideas. Although
possibly not the best and certainly subject to change, herein is contained a
summary of our philosophy, methods, and initial experience in this endeavor.


This, of course, was the first and foremost question to be resolved. Although no
member of the partnership had
ever claimed being pioneers to any movement, the following reasons were used to
justify the adventure:

. To create public awareness that solid state technology has reduced the size,
delicate nature and cost of
computers while greatly increasing their reliability. Cost reductions, of
course, demand the greatest emphasis.

*The Computer Systemcenter, 3330 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30305. (404)
231- 1691.

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