Join 3,438 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


No one is safe from the big fruit.
March 20, 2014 5:23 PM   Subscribe

The world's first Apple reseller is no more. Minneapolis-based FirstTech sold its first computer, an Apple II, in 1977 as a sideline to its growing technology business. By 1984, Apple computers were its primary focus. The world's first Apple reseller, FirstTech actually used its own boilerplate legal documents and swapped in Apple's name when drawing up its first sales contract. Its final day of business will be March 29.

With five Apple Stores in close driving distance from FirstTech — including one a nine-minute walk down the street — along with resellers like Best Buy selling Apple products below cost, the writing had been on the wall for a while. The last few months alone have seen Scranton, PA-based The Grove Media, Portland's MacPac, and suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh's MacOutfitters close their doors. Independent Apple resellers, sometimes genuinely mom-and-pop outfits, are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in a world where Apple is both their primary supplier and biggest competitor.

While giant, longtime stalwarts like Philadelphia's Springboard Media and New York's TekServe continue to thrive, even a Big Apple location is no guarantee of success. FirstTech's closure shocked many in the Apple reseller community, as it also was generally regarded as one of the few that not only was surviving, but beating the odds.
posted by CommonSense (37 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Full disclosure: While I'm connected to an independent Apple reseller myself, I am NOT in any way connected to, related to, or a friend of anyone affiliated with any of the above entities.)
posted by CommonSense at 5:24 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


FirstTech is in my neighborhood; I've never seen a customer walk inside the store. Yeah, it's hard to compete with the Apple Store literally four blocks away. I'm surprised they held out this long. Still, it's a loss.
posted by Sfving at 5:30 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I've probably spent about five thousand dollars at FirstTech, but they seemed to most become an iPhone outlet a few years back, and with an Apple Store Uptown there just didn't seem to be any reason to go there except repairs, which they did well but I needed infrequently.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:43 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Sounds like the equivalent of NYC's TekServe, which seems to be doing just fine (although I could be wrong...) with a bunch of Apple Stores within close walk/subway trips.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:00 PM on March 20


Missed that last sentence, I guess.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:02 PM on March 20


I know an Apple reseller who has actually opened up two new stores in the last year, both in towns of less than 25,000 people, in addition to his original store in a town of 15,000. The independent resellers would seem to have a workable niche in that kind of environment, where Apple is not likely to open up their own outlets.

That mom-and-pop link is a beaut. Sad to see that one close.
posted by beagle at 6:06 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Is it true now that one cannot open a new independent Apple repair shop (with warranty parts and reimbursement from the mothership) and existing providers are all grandfathered in?

I miss my days in the repair trenches, which date back to the release of Mac OS 8 and physical Service Source CDs.
posted by porn in the woods at 6:11 PM on March 20


I sort of miss the era when "computer shops" were dingy little storefronts that sold store-brand computers hand-assembled in the back. Sort of.

But mostly not.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:15 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


I sometimes miss the era of "computer shows" where a bunch of vendors with names like "Simple Computers" or "Signature Systems Inc." would come together at a local Sons of Italy hall or Holiday Inn Ballroom and set up tables to hawk their motherboards, expansion cards, and CD-ROM archives of major Internet FTP sites, but mostly it's because I miss the large racks of custom-labeled floppies containing shareware titles and custom DOOM .wads for sale.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:37 PM on March 20 [16 favorites]


I go by FirstTech on my bus to work every day. In contrast to the Brave New World of the uptown Apple store just down the road on Hennepin, FirstTech by contrast looks explicitly human. Like actual work is being done there, not some hyper-sanitized over-engineered marketing product.

I know lots of people are fans of the Apple Store way of doing things, but I literally get panic feelings just looking through the window of that place.

I will concede FirstTech is a relic in this industry, but one that I'm sorry to see go.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:40 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


This place has been around since 1981.... The apple store is a block away....
posted by HuronBob at 6:48 PM on March 20


Street View: Uptown Apple Store, First Tech
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:48 PM on March 20


I have to admit that I still have a lingering nostalgia for the old Apple resellers, although that was mostly because it was quite some time before I could afford one and that was the only way I could see the newest machines until I started working at a library that used them. I still remember the sense of wonder that I felt when actually getting my hands on an Apple /// (before everyone realized how shitty they were) and a color Mac, not to mention a Newton.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:04 PM on March 20


I know lots of people are fans of the Apple Store way of doing things, but I literally get panic feelings just looking through the window of that place.

These days, stepping inside pretty much any store selling computers makes me go "bleurgh".
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:10 PM on March 20


.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:13 PM on March 20


First Tech is right around the corner from me, and we've taken our computers there for repairs, not because it's a few blocks closer than the Apple Store, but because it's an actual local business that we can patronize. And they're nice and it's not like a weird trip into a cult headquarters and I don't have to make an appointment with a "genius" just to get what I need. Or I didn't, anyway, I guess now I do.

I'm going to be sorry to see them go, but I have to admit my very first reaction was "what will go into those spaces? It's actually two separate buildings, the store and the repair shop. That's two more empty storefronts to fill with...what, I wonder? I hope it's something cool, but they're kind of old weird looking buildings and I suspect they'll remain empty for a while until someone buys the property and rebuilds on it (see also: old BP gas station on the next corner down that stood empty for years until someone rebuilt a little retail building on it, which now stands empty with a big "space available" sign on it).

First Tech actually opened an outpost in Rochester (about 2 hours away) last year and it didn't do well, and I'm wondering if that somehow contributed to their demise. I have to think the overhead on that must have been a killer.

Word is that there's going to be a pretty great sale over there but alas, this isn't a good time for us to take advantage of that, which is fine, because it would make me feel sad to do that.
posted by padraigin at 7:36 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I go by FirstTech on my bus to work every day. In contrast to the Brave New World of the uptown Apple store just down the road on Hennepin, FirstTech by contrast looks explicitly human. Like actual work is being done there, not some hyper-sanitized over-engineered marketing product.

The cynical part of me says that would explain why it had to be doomed just due to location (though there's that other computer shop on Hennepin hanging on). The weird shopping-mall-on-a-city-street nature of Lake/Lagoon and Hennepin seems to only expand.
posted by hoyland at 7:45 PM on March 20


For a long time I worked for the oldest Apple dealer in Tennessee. Even then--five years ago--it was starting to become impossible to see how the business was going to survive long-term with Apple so clearly intent on making everyone do everything through the Genius Bar. The place I worked for mainly served schools and print/design places that needed to run old Macs for longer than anybody else.

I guess I get that the Apple Store is an important part of the braaaand and all, but that doesn't make it crappy to kill off all the businesses that made your company what it is 35 years ago.
posted by epilnivek at 8:46 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


The cynical part of me says that would explain why it had to be doomed just due to location (though there's that other computer shop on Hennepin hanging on).

PC Doodle, with the poodle cartoon on their sign. I have truly never seen anyone going in or out of there, nor have I ever seen an employee through the windows. I think it might be a front for a grow op or some kind of mob money laundering thing.
posted by padraigin at 8:52 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Is it true now that one cannot open a new independent Apple repair shop (with warranty parts and reimbursement from the mothership) and existing providers are all grandfathered in?

Yep. It's been like this since 2010 or 2011.

I sort of miss the era when "computer shops" were dingy little storefronts that sold store-brand computers hand-assembled in the back. Sort of.

But mostly not.


There's tons of grey in between the two extremes, you know. :-)
posted by CommonSense at 8:53 PM on March 20


Street View: Uptown Apple Store, First Tech

Yes, it's nice to be filthy rich.
posted by CommonSense at 8:54 PM on March 20


My family ran one of the first Apple authorized retailers in Southern New England (Logical Computers/Logical Systems in northwest CT, so named because the first computers they ever sold were of the Logical brand). It ceased to exist in any remarkable form years ago, and there were a lot of reasons including some less-than-stellar management at times, but there were a few big low points along the way. These are how I remember them, feel free to correct me but understand that I am pulling this from my recollection of my life as a mostly unpaid lackey nearly 20 years ago...

-Probably one of the biggest was right around 1990, when Apple started selling direct to educational institutions. This had been a HUGE market for companies like the one my family ran, my mom went from a very well-paid educational sales rep to out of a job virtually overnight when this happened. Particularly in an area where there were so many wealthy private schools and well-off public districts, it's sort of difficult to overstate the impact this had on the business.

-The dark times shortly following when Apple was making a confusingly large lineup of uninspired and overpriced machines didn't help either. We even had to sell Apple clones to keep going. Someday, I'll tell someone's children the story. "Yes, kids, there was a time when Apple was sufficiently desperate to license it's OS to other companies to cram into even more boring PC boxes. We only sold Power Computing clones, but there were others that were even worse. Believe it or not, people even thought Apple might go bankrupt during this time...! I should've bought as much Apple stock as I could but I was 13 and working for a struggling family business, so I was paid for an entire summer of 40 hour work with a $300 mountain bike!"

-The margin slash: Fresh on the cusp of the incredible rebirth we now know has happened, out came the very first iMac, and just like that the profit margin on an Apple machine went from roughly $250-500 to $70 on the iMac. My family ran a few companies at the time (they're all dead or nearly dead now, but anyways) and the common link was that we were never trying to be the cheapest game in town, but the best in terms of pre-purchase expertise and post-purchase service. This included covering any service/repair that AppleCare didn't cover, fully, for the first year. This was something you could easily do when you were making a couple hundred bucks on a computer, but when the margin dropped to $70 and our standard labor rate was $85, we now usually lost money on every machine that came in for more than an hour within the first year.

So that's just a couple of the things that changed the playing field a lot in my experience, and I understand that they were sort of bound to change as Apple became ever more successful. They couldn't sell us machines at a price that would allow for those margins forever and maintain their ascent to success. I remain an Apple loyalist, and if I wasn't typing this out on an Apple keyboard en route to my Mac Mini, I'd be doing it on my iPhone or my iPad. It was tough to watch a family business die, though, and it was especially tough to do so watching it happen at the expense of great service from a locally-owned and family-operated business. Now I buy an Apple product in store and get roughly the same level of consumer acknowledgement as if I'd picked up a prescription at CVS, and if it breaks, I'd better hope I can get a Genius Bar appointment relatively soon...
posted by rollbiz at 9:22 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


Margins today are shitty, but . . .

The margin slash: Fresh on the cusp of the incredible rebirth we now know has happened, out came the very first iMac, and just like that the profit margin on an Apple machine went from roughly $250-500 to $70 on the iMac.

When it first came out, the iMac was $1,299, if I recall correctly. Today, $1,299 Macs are $1,195 at Dealer B, so . . . $104 profit. Still crappy, but it certainly beats $70. (Plus, nowadays you can get another up-to-$71.70 on backend dollars at the end of the month on that $1,195-but-$1,299-retail machine, if you're lucky. So, in the end, up to $175.70 profit. Still not what it used to be, but reasonably acceptable.)

Now I buy an Apple product in store and get roughly the same level of consumer acknowledgement as if I'd picked up a prescription at CVS, and if it breaks, I'd better hope I can get a Genius Bar appointment relatively soon...

You really don't have any independents near you? Because it doesn't have to be that way. I see you're in Worcester, MA, and according to Apple's service locator, you can choose from independents in Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlbourough, Bellingham, and Concord before you get to the nearest Apple Stores in Natick and Dedham.

But that's what it all comes back to in the end — customers who don't even know you exist, and think the Apple Store is the only game in town. Even though they (ironically) are the johnny-come-latelies to this game. They've only existed since 2001, and didn't really hit critical mass until 2004-2005. Yet everyone seems to think they are THE place to go, when in fact your average independent has been here since the 1990s, if not the 1980s.

And this is where I'm tempted to start getting bitter and threadjacking, so . . . I shall stop now and breathe.
posted by CommonSense at 9:44 PM on March 20


Just checked to see if the reseller where our little repair department used to buy parts twenty-five years ago was still in business. I guess not.
posted by Knappster at 10:03 PM on March 20


according to Apple's service locator, you can choose from independents in Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlbourough, Bellingham, and Concord before you get to the nearest Apple Stores in Natick and Dedham.

I've been to Macs at Work in Shrewsbury and they're excellent for repair stuff but not so great on the sales side in terms of having anything. I don't know who is offering service in Northboro or Marlboro, but once you get past there it's definitely a lot easier to go to Natick (or Boylston Street in Boston when I'm there for work) than it is to go to Concord or especially Bellingham, especially when that's where you had to go to buy the damn equipment in the first place.
posted by rollbiz at 10:19 PM on March 20


When it first came out, the iMac was $1,299, if I recall correctly.

I believe you recall correctly as well.

What I can assure you is that dealer cost at that time was $70 less than retail. I don't know what it is now but it doesn't really matter if your retail operation sunk almost a decade ago...

Oh, and also: My knock on the service providers above isn't actually meant to be a knock on them at all. It's simply to say that the ones I know of and have been to exist almost exclusively as service providers, and most of them book out even farther for service than the Genius Bar does, because all they do is service, they necessarily prioritize small enterprise work, and they're also not great with anything less than a full computer, if they want to deal with it at all.

I totally get why they've gone that route, but it sucks.
posted by rollbiz at 10:25 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Not sure if the link will translate, but when you search my zip not for service but for sales...Surprise! You get Radio Shacks, Best Buys, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, Staples, BJs, Toys R Us (?!?), and then Apple. When you refine your search to look for a computer, you get a couple Best Buys, Guitar Center, and then the Apple Store...
posted by rollbiz at 10:32 PM on March 20


We only sold Power Computing clones, but there were others that were even worse.

I’ve still got 2 Power Tower Pro’s and only tossed the Power Center in recent years, because really, I probably don’t need 3 clones to run OS9.

Believe it or not, people even thought Apple might go bankrupt during this time...! I should've bought as much Apple stock as I could

The only time we seriously talked about buying a single stock. I was a recent convert and the price was so ridiculously low. We thought we had a pretty good chance of losing it all, but it seemed like a good gamble. Laziness and inertia was the deciding factor. There may be a pattern here.
posted by bongo_x at 10:38 PM on March 20 [3 favorites]


It's really remarkable how thorough a job Apple has done of owning 100% of the profits for the stuff they produce.

It's not just retailers, if there's any significant money to be made developing software, they'll own that, too. They don't shy away from competing even loyal developers - just look at what they did to Adobe.
posted by empath at 5:01 AM on March 21


They don't shy away from competing even loyal developers - just look at what they did to Adobe.

I assume you're talking about Flash? If so, it should be noted that the death of Flash is pretty much unequivocally good.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:26 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Not just flash, they basically pushed Adobe completely out of OSX development.
posted by empath at 5:59 AM on March 21


The History of Apple vs. Adobe

And that doesn't even cover buying Final Cut Pro from Macromedia and then beefing it up to compete with Premiere.
posted by davros42 at 6:15 AM on March 21


Kind of bummed since I went them recently to them to upgrade my macbook pro and convert it from a Prius to a Lamborghini. I figured they would be my goto people whenever I needed to get things seriously modified on my machine. They were very knowledgeable and I liked the experience better than the Apple Store.
posted by jadepearl at 6:55 AM on March 21


It's actually two separate buildings, the store and the repair shop. That's two more empty storefronts to fill with...what, I wonder?

Glassblown pipe/bong shops, if the history of that part of town has taught us anything.
posted by COBRA! at 7:05 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely sad to see this place go, but yeah, once the Apple Store moved in a few blocks down the road, the writing was on the wall. Minneapolis residents holding deep grudges will remember that Apple bought the best live music bar in uptown in order to demolish it and build their giant cube of an Apple store.

Oh, and as for the above-mentioned PC Doodle (which is an independent computer repair place right across the street), I love that place. I think their primary business is to fix up older PCs and sell them, but they always have an assortment of the most random electronics you can think of. If you're an electronics hobbyist, you can just go in there and wander around a bit and make an offer on some of the junk they have laying around. I'll admit I haven't been inside in a few years, but that's what I remember.
posted by antonymous at 7:05 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


FirstTech was a little bit more of a drive for me, but I often went there when I needed gear or especially tech help. Having that level of local tech support was a godsend, and I had been hoping to consult them on repairing my original Mac.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:35 AM on March 21


but I have to admit my very first reaction was "what will go into those spaces?

... a "Microsoft" store? I kid, I kid, thanks folks, will be here all night ...

.

Having got my start in an independent computer retail business, it does pain me to see everything going to big-box, corporate-centralized chains... But far too late to mourn, this has been the case in the PC-world for longer than Apple... (why do I mourn?... independent, small storefronts were a great place for someone to get started in the technology field, essentially learning a "trade"...)
posted by jkaczor at 2:41 PM on March 21


« Older R.I.P. Lucius Shepard...  |  Princesses come in all shapes ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments