And yet as you might expect for such a creative part of the world, the Mac using populace was already well served, with existing dedicated Apple shops on the high street in both Brighton and Hove.

Martin Mayr, Managing Director of Cancom, told us: "Obviously it's not the best Christmas present we've ever had. However, we've known for quite a while that there would be an Apple Store here."

Indeed, another company that has long served the Brighton community, Solutions Inc, had been even more proactive: "Solutions Inc has always supported the notion of a retail Apple shop," Richard Furber, its Retail Operations Manager, told us. "We produced a film back in 2000 for Apple UK management highlighting the potential four years before the Regent Street store opened. We filmed it in Churchill Square, Brighton, right where they now have their own store."

Store opening 3

THE GOODS: In typical Apple Store style, all the kit is laid out on blonde wood tables

Surely, though, Apple opening its own store in Brighton is bound to have a detrimental effect on the businesses of Cancom and Solutions Inc? Not so, according to Solution Inc's Furber:

"The first week really affected the sales in our Brighton and the Hove stores, but we have already seen a great bounce back in week two. The Hove store has free parking on-site – if you are buying an iMac, Mac Pro or even a laptop, do you really want to carry it through the shopping centre back to your car? Our Brighton Store has seen a huge increase in its sales of third-party goods, and with Apple Store increasing the market share of Apple goods in the town then our sales of all digital lifestyle accessories will just get better and better."

Different league

Cancom is more guarded, however. "[While] we respect greatly their absolute professionalism in the way they developed their retail offering," Mayr says, "Apple's huge financial muscle means they are in different league to us when it comes to these kind of investments."

We were reassured to see both companies recognise the strength of the Apple retail experience. "Apple Stores are the new benchmark for retailing worldwide," says Furber, "a real blessing compared to the Dixon's shopping experience of the past."

Store opening 2

THE PUNTERS: Apple fans young and old flocked to the new store, which will offer free summer camps

Cancom's Mayr seems to speak for many of the high-street Apple specialist we speak to when he says: "For us, we wish they'd stayed at Regent Street and nowhere else."

Nevertheless, third-party stores have their own strengths. "Apple retail stores are good at what they do, but they fall a long way short of being a one-stop shop for everything. They don't sell servers or network systems, or support business users with visits to the client. The same is true for schools interested in Macs," says Furber, and Mayr is keen to stress the long-term relationships companies like his can develop with the community.

It's a sentiment that's echoed by Farpoint in Bath, MacFormat's own local Apple Premium Reseller. "Our offer to businesses includes free consultations, full IT support, replacement machines during repairs, on-site training and support packages tailored to suit each business's individual needs and budget," says Liz Hyde, its Marketing and PR Manager.

"We also have a rental service for businesses that allow more flexibility for our clients and the chance to try before you buy for new users. And you don't have to be a business to reap all of these benefits. We are also an Apple Authorised Service Provider and carry out repairs on-site here at Walcot Street. Our customers don't have to book their machines in first like you do at an Apple Store."

Store opening 1

THE RESULT: High street stores let you get hands-on with new kit

There's little doubt, though, that no matter how solid the service and broad the range of products offered by the traditional high-street Apple specialists, they just haven't got the magic touch that Apple seems to have when it opens a store itself.

Through a strange alchemy of stellar products, peerless stage management and just a soupçon of wide-eyed cultism, there's nothing quite like the opening of an Apple Store. See you at the next one?

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First published in MacFormat Issue 213

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