The ability to develop, troubleshoot, and maintain hardware and software is a must, as is the ability to speak (or at least listen) intelligently about pertinent matters on a consultation basis. And again, due to the very nature of our product, user community support is of utmost importance. The public must understand or feel that they will be given the chance to understand. We offer, for example, free introductory classes (both hardware and software) to the purchasers of our units, with only a nominal charge to non-purchasers. For the do-it-yourselfer, an hour (at least) each evening is set aside for him to bring in his under-the-weather Altair and get free troubleshooting. Other community functions include the active support of the local microcomputer hobbyist club, one of the largest of its kind in the nation. We also have gained the reputation as being a local depository of technical computer-related brochures and publications. Keeping abreast of the latest price changes and new product offerings is necessary for our survival. INITIAL EXPERIENCE October and November of 1975 were spent building and furnishing the store. During this period, we noticed a faint quickening of the public pulse at the shopping center where we are located. More and more people stopped by to talk and find out what type of place this was going to be. In November we were already working out of a half-finished store front. Finally, after months of preparation, we opened the doors on December 20, 1975. Since then the experiences have been truly remarkable. We have run the gamut from uproarious laughter to the utter frustration that seems destined to accompany any business operation. Problems? They occur by the dozens. Basically, however, they can be classified into one of two areas; either problems that are common to all small businesses, or problems unique to computer stores. The largest obstacle we have had to overcome is our own lack of business experience. Initially this didn't seem too important, but since then we evolved our own form of Murphy's Law: lf something can be done wrong-we will do it wrong; and just to be sure, we'll do it wrong two different ways. We have certainly not been immune from the various small ailments that plague small businesses - lack of management expertise, supply problems, cash flow, bad checks, you name it. At times these daily problems seem to outweigh and overwhelm everything else, causing us to occasionally have to reach down deep and rely on a certain humor to see us through. One of our pet diversions is coming "Anti-Slogans" that seem to fit the mood. We have a few classics, such as: "Progress - We Sneer At The Term" "Problems Are Our Most Important Product" "Where Concepts Become Confusion-And Confusion Becomes A Way Of Life." The other issues with which we deal are those unique to computer stores. First, there is the basic task of letting people know what we're trying to do. To the average person who walks in off the street. we usually have to tell them that even though they can be used as such, we're not selling calculators. Then we have to expect two stock questions, "What kind of place is this?", and 'Well, what can you do with these computers?" At first we would stammer around trying to pull together good answers, but by now it's practically a conditioned response. We hear one of these questions and bang! Put the old mind into AUTO and crank up the song and dance routine. I mean, we've got it down pat! To characterize our typical customer is impossible. Applications range from monitoring water levels in the depths of a sewer, to writing payroll checks, to controlling a model railroad in someone's basement. Users include extremely sophisticated systems programmers as well as complete computer novices. Actually, it's less frustrating dealing with a complete novice who is somewhat awed by computers than it is to deal with an IBM 370 programmer who views microcomputers as "Toys." When this happens (and it does happen), we just take them in our computer room and show the business system on which we perform our accounting and inventory control (Altair 88OOA, 40K of memory, dual disk units, video terminal and printer, all built into a custom desk). lt's almost frightening when you think it's all based on a $30.00 microprocessor. Our biggest miscalculation seems to have been just how much time is required by the computer novice. We tend to forget just how much there is to know about computers until we try to explain things to someone who thinks that a terminal is actually the computer. We've literally spent hours passionately pleading the case of Microcomputers to someone only to hear "Well, l'm really only in here killing time while my wife is shopping." And the joys of Kit-building. Ah, there's a story in itself. Someone buys a Kit, puts it together overnight, it doesn't work, he screams, and brings it in muttering "damn crappy equipment." Usually, the next thing we hear is "What do you mean, bad solder joints? I went to the NASA soldering school." Still, we have a certain obligation to help each customer get his system up and running. We've tried to accomplish this by setting aside a certain time each day. (6:00-7:OOPM), during which we have a free software and hardware clinic. During this time anyone can bring in their sick machines and/or programs and we'll give them a hand. The latest issue we've had to deal with is the "software vacuum." People are discovering that after the machine is working, the real uses are just beginning. Canned programs are fine (programs written and debugged by someone else). but when it comes to writing one's own programs - well, there's more to software than meets the eye. To combat this situation, we have started a series of programming lectures entitled, The Art Of Creative Computer Programming." This series is aimed at providing a novice programmer with insights about programming and a set of software tools and tricks to tackle his own programming project. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE In a year's time computer stores have evolved from a few timid, rather speculative ventures to a firmly established concept. The first generation of stores are highly individualized with each having a different emphasis. In filling out the scorecard on ourselves, l would have to say that we set some very idealistic, but unrealistic, goals. But, there's no substitute for experience, and even with somewhat altered goals, our enthusiasm and energy still runs high. What about the overall industry? The approaches offered by the differing stores are quite varied. At one extreme is the store that attempts to act primarily as a computer supermarket, emphasizing a broad assortment of equipment for the customer. The other extreme is taken by stores that emphasize primarily their service and support. Of course, this is actually a continuum. As computers become easier to use, as the general public becomes more aware, and as the software vacuum is filled, the tendency will be to move towards the supermarket concept. In these early stages, however, education, service, and installing consumer confidence must be paramount to all other considerations. Would we do it over again? You can bet your solid-state bippies that we would. Each of our successes, whether a simple home computer or an intricate industrial system, causes feelings of pleasure and accomplishment. The dream of readily available computer power is now becoming a reality and we are sharing, and hopefully helping, in the transition.