Toronto was not only the scene for Microsoft’s 2012 edition of its Worldwide Partner Conference, it will also be the home of the first Microsoft-branded retail store outside the United States.
COO Kevin Turner announced the stores would be coming to Canada during his keynote at WPC, and Microsoft Canada president Max Long later confirmed that the chosen location was indeed Toronto’s upscale Yorkdale Shopping Centre.
“We’re delighted to have the first international Microsoft Store,” Long said. “Yorkdale is the location we chose because it’s top-notch, and because it’s the most profitable mall in North America.”
The company said the store will be close to 7,000 square feet, and will result in 50 new jobs. The store is expected to be open in time for the holiday shopping rush.
The company currently has 20 stores in the United States, with another eight listed as “coming soon,” including another pseudo-international expansion, a location soon to open in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The first location opened in Arizona in 2009, a showcase for Microsoft’s OEM partners against the competitive pressures of the retail experience of the Apple Store.
Indeed, the Microsoft Store design borrows many cues from the Apple Store, with shining hardwood floors, clean, open spaces, and lots of devices to try out first hand. Where it differs, of course, is that the gear on hand is not all Microsoft – although Steve Ballmer confirmed this week that the Microsoft Store and Microsoft.com will be the only places consumers will be able to get the company’s much-hyped Surface tablet when it launches – but predominantly third-party gear running Windows.
Will there be more Microsoft Stores in Canada? The magic eight-ball says “seems likely,” but for now, Long and the Microsoft Canada team are playing any cards they may hold close to their vests. The focus, he said, is on getting the Yorkdale store open, and making it an important part of its neighbourhood.
“We’ll do some work with the community, and really do a big launch for the store,” he said. “It’s a significant one for us.”
The idea of a vendor-owned store is generally the kind of thing that gives solution providers fits, bringing to mind immediate notions of channel conflict. However, the Microsoft Store does seem to be targeted firmly at home users looking to buy a PC, an Xbox, or related products. There may be some friction with SOHO users deciding between their local solution provider (or retailer), and the Microsoft Store, but even then, it’s likely to be the Future Shops and Best Buys of the world that lose out to the company-branded Store.
I’m also reminded of the story of an Apple partner I spoke with a few years ago, shortly after an Apple Store had opened not too far from his location. What was the impact on his business? Yes, his consumer business had taken a hit as a result of direct competition from Cupertino. But he had largely refocused his business around business Mac users, and business was booming. Why? Because the Apple Store presence was raising awareness about the Mac platform, and business users were interested in learning more and doing more with it. But his business clients were staying away from the Apple Store in droves and flocking to his much quieter location to learn more about the Mac and to buy the gear they now wanted for their businesses. To borrow from the late baseball (and philosophy) legend Yogi Berra, when it came to business users and the Apple Store, “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”