An Inside Look At Apple's Secret Weapon In Retail: authorised Resellers

citymac van

Photo: Dylan Love

Apple has 361 retail locations throughout the world, but that’s not nearly enough to reach everyone in its huge customer base.Consider the city of Asheville, an artsy liberal town of approximately 84,000 people in Western North Carolina.

Ashevillians love their Apple products, but the closest official retail location is 70 miles and a state away in Greenville, South Carolina. The next closest is more than two hours away in Knoxville, Tennessee. Making those trips is out of the question for many people.

Enter CityMac, Asheville’s authorised Apple reseller.

Click here to take a tour of CityMac >

Ahamad Abuadas, CityMac store manager, told us that Apple won’t open a new store unless it runs the numbers and determines that it can make $30 million per year in a given market. “authorised resellers come in when people in those smaller those markets need help,” he said.

What does it mean to become an authorised reseller? There are tests and marks to meet, and it helps if you have an in at the company. A certain amount of your staff has to get official Apple certifications in order to maintain your authorization as well.

As for the differences between an Apple Store and an authorised reseller, Abuadas told us that “Apple physically limits our ability to do certain things. Repairs on iPhones and certain computers, those have to go to Apple. They authorise no one other than themselves to work on those. If we fixed them, we could lose certification and wouldn’t be able to carry Apple products.”

(It bears mentioning that the iPhone accounts for roughly half of Apple’s business, so we feel it’s only natural that Apple would want to keep that for itself.)

For the limitations that Apple imposes, CityMac has a large degree of freedom at the same time.

If you buy a new computer from CityMac and your old computer is a Mac too, they’ll transfer your old data for free. This stands in huge contrast to Apple — a data transfer requires you to enroll in its One to One service for $100 per year.

Additionally, CityMac employees will go to your house to help you with anything you need at a flat rate of $60 per hour. Abuadas told us that off-site visits can lead to crazy stories — “I went to an ex-marine’s house to help him off-site. He had some PTSD issues and starting opening up about it, saying ‘I’ve probably killed more people than you could count. The most amazing thing you can see is a human being dissolved in phosphorus.’ It was weird.”

A reseller like CityMac arguably delivers on the promise of Apple retail moreso than Apple itself. Since resellers pop up in smaller markets, employees remember their repeat customers and develop relationships with them. Prices on Apple products are identical to those at the Apple Store. And for moments when you’re stumped by your computer, they’ll come to your house.

So what goes on at an Apple authorised reseller?

If you lived in Asheville, the closest Apple Store would be in Greenville, South Carolina, about 90 minutes away.

But there's another option -- just head to the southern end of town and look for the funky van.

Directly behind you is CityMac, Asheville's Apple reseller.

The store is spacious and offers a mellow vibe missing from certain Apple Stores (I'm looking at you, Fifth Avenue).

The merchandising above the products came directly from Apple itself.

And all the products you'd expect to find at any Apple Store are here.

The iPads are hooked up to a large display to make demoing a snap.

One employee told us that the MacBook Pros seem to be the most popular item.

The speaker station pipes music all day over an AirPort Express.

And there's an Apple TV if customers want to watch movies.

iPhone cases are obviously there too.

CityMac only makes about 10% profit on Apple products, so they keep lots of third-party accessories on hand.

The latest and greatest Apple products are all here...

...but the store isn't afraid to pay tribute to the company's history.

If you look closely, you'll find the CityMac's subtle memorial to the guy who made it all possible.

CityMac offers free lessons on all aspects of Apple products in this classroom area. Customers are invited to bring their devices and get help with whatever they need.

And they love it when customers take the classes.

If they need more specialised help, however, they can get individual help at these stations for $35 an hour.

CityMac opens directly to a neighbouring store around this corner.

A beautiful antique store (where your MacBook Air might end up in 20 years?).

Geek toys.

Here's CityMac co-owner Neely at work.

CityMac handles all kinds of repairs too. It happens in this room behind the cash registers.

Faulty computers are lined up to be fixed.

A customer's busted iMac is being diagnosed.

Say hello to Trip and Travis, the techs who fix Asheville's Apple products.

After shopping for new gadgets, you can take a load off on the store's couches.

CityMac has an adjoining coffee shop called CityMug, and the employees can drink free coffee all day.

CityMug is a nice place to hang out, hop on the WiFi network, and type this very sentence.

So what goes on at official Apple stores?

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