TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Jun 86 History
Volume Number:2
Issue Number:6
Column Tag:Historical Computing

Confessions of a Computer Store Junkie

By Dick Heiser, Industry Pioneer, On the Great Peace March

Dick Heiser is one of the more famous individuals in the personal computing industry and rightly so. He started the first Computer Store in Santa Monica and his vision has influenced virtually every computer store since. In this third column, he shares with us some of his thoughts on what he learned about business from the Computer Store.

The Right Stuff

According to Tom Wolfe, the Mercury astronauts showed the Right Stuff by staying calm in a crisis and by acting correctly, immediately, effeortlessly. Unconventional business practices that succeed carry a similar feeling of style, of the Right Stuff.

Michael Phillip's book Honest Business shows small businesses how to have the Right Stuff. He recommends investing money slowly, paying bills immediately, telling the truth, not having secrets, and keeping the focus on people rather than on goods or money.

Carbon Copies

Many business practices become "de facto standards" because everybody copies what the first guy did. Sometimes that's smart: Kaypro copied Osborne's portability and price because Osborne had proven his new ideas. In my store, I copied the IBM "solution sell" because it's the proper way to treat a customer.

The "solution sell" is more like counseling than like persuading, and it requires enough time to identify the problem or requirements, develop a solution, and explain it. The "solution sell" is harder to copy than other practices- which makes it a good competitive strategy.

Sometimes copying can get ridiculous. At first, my store was open very late. I liked to jog at noon, and wanted to be open after work for computer hobbyists. Can you believe it? Other stores copied my hours! For years, most computer stores were closed on Monday. Why? Because I wanted to be open on weekends instead! Other times the Right Stuff is so strange that competitors wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole!

Hire the Hacker

Hackers have been the best employees by far at the Computer Store. They're easy to find, hard working, fantastically well-informed, and fun to work with.

In the fall of 1975, when I was busy with customers, my wife Lois (then a programmer for the RAND Corporation) would pitch-in. Often people wouldn't let her help them, under the assumption that a woman couldn't master technical material.

At times, customers had to help each other. Mike Eusey helped other customers a lot. He built his Altair computer from a kit, and learned how it worked. He began hanging out at the store more and more. Lois, expasperated at trying to help uncooperative males, suggested we hire him. He already knew what to do: he'd been doing it for free! Mike and I worked together until I left the store in the spring of 1981 when I sold the store. Mike is not a stereotypical hacker; he's quiet, neat, and sleeps at night. He's a real hacker though; he's an information collector, precise, and he knows five ways to do anything. Lately, he's been answering customer questions about Telo's Filevision.

Steve Zook was another famous fixture in the early days of the world's first Computer Store. Steve was a freshman at UCLA when he built his Altair. He loved to show off his knowledge at my store, and was hired soon after Mike. I can't remember Steve's electronics credentials, but he was appointed repair technician immediately. I was useless with electronics and needed his help desperately. Steve fixed a lot of broken and mis-assembled kit computers [including mine! -Ed.], but upset some customers by casually referring to them as "turkeys". He could operate the bit switches on an Altair so fast you couldn't see his hands move, and he was hardly ever stumped. In his spare time, he rewrote the Processor Technology monitor/editor, and it gradually evolved into the Microopolis Disk Operating System. Micropolis then hired him so they wouln't have to shell out so much for their next operating system. What a talent! What took me fifteen years to learn, was "obvious" to him.

The wonderful hackers who have worked at The Computer Store have so much Right Stuff, that I'll just have to keep some more stories for later.

Own What You Sell

The few times I hired a non-computer-owner to work in my store, I regretted it. Computer owners are the right kind of prospective employees because they have already shown sincere interest in the computer, and they already understand how it works!

Owning what you sell today is harder than in the days of the Apple II. How many salespeople would want to buy an IBM PC-AT, or could afford one? Today's business-oriented computer sellers probably don't own any computer, much less the one they recommend.

I enouraged employees to expand their computers by selling them equipment at cost. I was a bad sport about upgrades, though. I thought frequent equipment turnover would be a problem. Now I see that the best employees are only happy if they have the latest model, and I should have let them upgrade frequently.

Apple Computer has a great employee ownership plan too. Their best idea is the Own-A-Mac program. This plan took the initiative to provide discounts for store empoyees everywhere. This is absolutely the Right Stuff. It's generous, makes people happy, and promotes Apple products. Perfect!

Open Door Policy

When I owned the Computer Store, every employee had a key to the door and to the burglar alarm. To me, the store is a big toy factory, and I want everyone to be able to play with the toys as often as possible. Giving out so many keys increased the chance of something being taken, but I don't believe anything ever was. Instead, everyone responded with a sense of responsibility and pride, and they mostly cleaned-up late night messes. Some of the late night sessions led to interesting software such as PDS-1, ModMon and VTL-2; other sessions were just for fun or for exploring. I'm glad insurance companies didn't think to ask "How many keys are in use?" back then. They'd never have understood how much fun it is to have your own key to the door!

Kids Welcome

Some kids were timid about approaching the computers in the store. Most weren't. Kids exemplify the hacker ethic: they're hands-on-oriented, patient, and insatiably curious.

Many adults are encouraged by seeing kids use computers. We tend to overlook the fears and inhibitions other people have about computers. One adult explained "We've been told too many times not to break things, so we're afraid to play with them". Another adult suggested that we're afraid of getting beeped-at for a silly mistake. "Getting his hand slapped" for doing something invalid really makes him irate. Non-hacker adults have no idea how much you can learn by experimenting.

When I teach adults to use computers, I tell them that teenagers make the best computerists. I encourage adult students to imitate teenager's curiousity, tenacity, and aggressiveness. Some of our customers were put-off by the "unbusinesslike" informality of kids using computers in the store. Other propects got the intended message: computers are interesting and fun to use.

Great Books

Selling books served many purposes for us. First of all, the books contain essential information. We sold how-to books, reference books, and software manuals. This saved a lot of time with propects who ask, "What's this all about?"

Second, we sold textbooks and monographs. We were one of the better local sources for computer science titles, and we stocked some exotic stuff as well. Often there was a "free University" atmosphere in the store, when a local expert would sound-off.

Third, we recommended books that promote a special viewpoint. Computer Lib by Ted Nelson is my favorite, and a new edition may appear later this year. The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg is the proper orientation for a new professional programmer. Travels in Computerland by Ben Schneiderman is a unique and funny description of what can happen when you decide to computerize.

Lois Brand of Peoples Computer Company told me about the American Booksellers Association. The ABA's big red bok is essentail for dealing with book publishers. Selling books is hard work, and discounters are wiping-out some interesting book dealers.

Sometimes the Wrong Stuff hurts you just as much as the Right Stuff helps. When I bought some remainder books cheap from the Library of Science, I priced them too high. Instead of bargains for customers, we had books to count and to dust for years and years. The Wrong Stuff clings; it takes prompt and decisive action to drive it away!

Parity

Before winding up this list of proper ideas, I'd like to mention some Right Stuff for computer hardware and software. Once in a speech, I claimed that IBM will spare no expense to put reliability and error checking into your computer. I got a laugh, but I was perfectly serious! For example, all IBM computers have memory parity checking. Sure enough, a few years later, IBM's personal computer became the only personal computer with parity memory. Surely I told myself, parity will now become a universal feature. Unfortunately, it hasn't.

Some people even object to parity, mistakenly thinking it's making them wait for the power-up memory test. That memory test itself is annoying and can't be turned-off so it's very Wrong Stuff indeed. Some day memory parity checking will catch on. Maybe by then we'll have memory error correction as well as detection. In the meantime, it's an interesting exception to the rule, when IBM struggles without success to give us the Right Stuff.

Think too about open hardware and software architecture; how do you know it's the Right Stuff?

Shareware

When I write some software, I want to sell it as Shareware, like Bob Wallace does. Shareware, user-supported software, and Freeware don't need intimidating license "agreements" or copy protection schemes. The customers, instead of being the "enemy", are the primary marketing force. Conventional publishing and distribution absorbs 93% of the selling price, so the poor conventional software author can't even afford to offer a refund to the customer!

Software distributed via Compuserve and through user groups can be updated smoothly and often. Switcher and Red Ryder have both been much more dynamic and more responsive to user feedback than more expensive store bought software. If Smartcom were user-supported, like Red Ryder, would they ignore it's incompatibility with the Tecmar Hard Disk? Big software companies generate so much momentum and inertia, spending that 93% of the revenue, that it's no wonder they're unresponsive. Some "marketing expert" who doesn't understand the problem and who probably can't even use the program decides what's important. [So that's why Microsoft is having such a hard time figuring out how to make Fortran work on a Mac Plus! -Ed.]

Bob Wallace, on the other hand, is fully in charge of his software as well as his company. He updates his product often, and can afford to hire a few talented people to help him. He's close to his customers, so he knows what's really important to them, and he had the pleasure of knowing that all the revenue comes from already satisfied customers. By designing his own business arrangements, Bob is way ahead of authors who turn their programs over to conventional publishers.

Do it Yourself

Many of these ideas are good not only because they work, but also because they deserve to work. Computerists, like other technologists, face choices between good and bad. Plastic guns for airplane hijackers, and teflon bullets are technical innovations that can be imagined but should not be developed. Choosing between good and bad isn't hard. It just requires the confidence to follow your own judgement. The Rotary International "four way test" is a good starting point when you're thinking about your own Right Stuff:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Not only is this a good creed for the personal computing industry but individuals and nations as well. And now for me, it's back to the Great Peace March to emphasize my belief that peace is definitely the Right Stuff!

 
AAPL
$95.54
Apple Inc.
-0.06
MSFT
$42.82
Microsoft Corpora
-0.34
GOOG
$563.80
Google Inc.
-7.80

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Adobe Lightroom 5.6 - Import, develop, a...
Adobe Lightroom software helps you bring out the best in your photographs, whether you're perfecting one image, searching for ten, processing hundreds, or organizing thousands. Create incredible... Read more
OneNote 15.2 - Free digital notebook fro...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that’s too important to forget. Whether you’re at... Read more
iStat Menus 4.22 - Monitor your system r...
iStat Menus lets you monitor your system right from the menubar. Included are 8 menu extras that let you monitor every aspect of your system. Some features: CPU -- Monitor cpu usage. 7 display... Read more
Ember 1.8 - Versatile digital scrapbook....
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
OmniPlan 2.3.6 - Robust project manageme...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Command-C 1.1.1 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Knock 1.1.7 - Unlock your Mac by knockin...
Knock is a faster, safer way to sign in. You keep your iPhone with you all the time. Now you can use it as a password. You never have to open the app -- just knock on your phone twice, even when it's... Read more
Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Mister Beam Review
Mister Beam Review By Jordan Minor on August 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: ILLUMINATINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Mister Beam’s puzzles are great. But its platforming? Not so much.   | Read more »
Hook Some More Fun With MapHook’s New Up...
Hook Some More Fun With MapHook’s New Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 1st, 2014 [ permalink ] iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad | Read more »
Angry Henry And The Escape From The Heli...
Angry Henry And The Escape From The Helicopter Lords: Part 17: The Re-Reckoning Review By Jordan Minor on August 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: GET TO THE CHOPPERUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dead Trigger 2 Slaughter Master Tourname...
Dead Trigger 2 Slaughter Master Tournament Set to Reward for Masterful Murdering Posted by Ellis Spice on August 1st, 2014 [ | Read more »
Soccer Physics Review
Soccer Physics Review By Andrew Fisher on August 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: HE FLAILS, HE SCORES!!!Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Soccer Physics is as entertaining as it is absurd.   | Read more »
Train Your Own Dragon in DreamWorks’ Fir...
Train Your Own Dragon in DreamWorks’ First Story App – Dreamworks Press: Dragons Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 1st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dream Revenant Review
Dream Revenant Review By Lee Hamlet on August 1st, 2014 Our Rating: :: WATCH OUT FOR BED BUGSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dream Revenant takes players on a journey through a man’s subconscious. And though it’s full... | Read more »
Dawn of the Immortals Review
Dawn of the Immortals Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: RESPECTABLE EXPLORATIONUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dawn of the Immortals might not re-invent the wheel, but it does tweak it a little... | Read more »
80 Days Review
80 Days Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: EPIC ADVENTUREUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A fantastic and fascinating re-envisioning of the classic novel by Jules Verne, 80 Days is a delightful... | Read more »
Battleheart Legacy Guide
The world of Battleheart Legacy is fun and deep; full of wizards, warriors, and witches. Here are some tips and tactics to help you get the most enjoyment out of this great game. | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSR...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 13″ MacBook Airs on sale $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They also include free copies of Parallels Desktop and LoJack for... Read more
16GB iPad Air on sale for $399, save $100
Best Buy is offering the 16GB WiFi iPad Air for $399.99 on their online store for a limited time. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free store pickup (if available). Price is for... Read more
All Over For Tablets Or Just A Maturing, Evol...
CNN’s David Goldman weighs in on tablet sector doom and gloom, asking rhetorically: “Is this the beginning of the end for the tablet?” Answering that, he contends that hysteria and panic are... Read more
Letterspace 1.0.1 – New Free iOS Text Editor...
Bangkok, Thailand based independent developer Sittipon Simasanti has released Letterspace, a new text editor for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Letterspace is a note taking app with an... Read more
Save up to $130 on an iPad mini with Apple re...
The Apple Store has Certified Refurbished 2nd generation iPad minis with Retina Displays available for up to $130 off the cost of new models, starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included... Read more
iPad Cannibalization Threat “Overblown”
Seeking Alpha’s Kevin Greenhalgh observes that while many commentators think Apple’s forthcoming 5.5-inch panel iPhone 6 will cannibalize iPad sales, in his estimation, these concerns are being... Read more
Primate Labs Releases July 2014 MacBook Pro P...
Primate Labs’ John Poole has posted Geekbench 3 results for most of the new MacBook Pro models that Apple released on Tuesday. Poole observes that overall performance improvements for the new MacBook... Read more
Apple Re-Releases Bugfixed MacBook Air EFI Fi...
Apple has posted a bugfixed version EFI Firmware Update 2.9 a for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. The update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected, and... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, plus free sh...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $140 on an iPad Air with Apple ref...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.