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!

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

LibreOffice 6.4.5.2 - Free, open-source...
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
Thunderbird 68.10.0 - Email client from...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more
Firefox 78.0.1 - Fast, safe Web browser.
Firefox offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and casual... Read more
BetterTouchTool 3.389 - Customize multi-...
BetterTouchTool adds many new, fully customizable gestures to the Magic Mouse, Multi-Touch MacBook trackpad, and Magic Trackpad. These gestures are customizable: Magic Mouse: Pinch in / out (zoom)... Read more
Slack 4.7.0 - Collaborative communicatio...
Slack brings team communication and collaboration into one place so you can get more work done, whether you belong to a large enterprise or a small business. Check off your to-do list and move your... Read more
OsiriX Lite 11.0.3 - 3D medical image pr...
OsiriX Lite is an image processing software dedicated to DICOM images (".dcm" / ".DCM" extension) produced by medical equipment (MRI, CT, PET, PET-CT, ...) and confocal microscopy (LSM and BioRAD-PIC... Read more
Wireshark 3.2.5 - Network protocol analy...
Wireshark is one of the world's foremost network protocol analyzers, and is the standard in many parts of the industry. It is the continuation of a project that started in 1998. Hundreds of... Read more
Dabble 1.6.1 - Organize your manuscript,...
Dabble organizes your manuscript, story notes, and plot. Dabble simplifies the story, leaving more room in your brain to create, which is what being a writer is really about. Organize your story.... Read more
Quicken 5.17.0 - Complete personal finan...
Quicken makes managing your money easier than ever. Whether paying bills, upgrading from Windows, enjoying more reliable downloads, or getting expert product help, Quicken's new and improved features... Read more
Tor Browser 9.5.1 - Anonymize Web browsi...
The Tor Browser Bundle is an easy-to-use portable package of Tor, Vidalia, Torbutton, and a Firefox fork preconfigured to work together out of the box. It contains a modified copy of Firefox that... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Detective Di is a point-and-click murder...
Detective Di is a point-and-click murder mystery set in Tang Dynasty-era China. You'll take on the role of China's best-known investigator, Di Renjie, as he solves a series of grisly murders that will ultimately lead him on a collision course with... | Read more »
Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia is se...
Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia, one of Square Enix's many popular mobile RPGs, has announced a plethora of in-game events that are set to take place over the summer. This will include several rewards, Free Multi Draws and more. [Read more] | Read more »
Sphaze is a neat-looking puzzler where y...
Sphaze is a neat-looking puzzler where you'll work to guide robots through increasingly elaborate mazes. It's set in a visually distinct world that's equal parts fantasy and sci-fi, and it's finally launched today for iOS and Android devices. [... | Read more »
Apple Arcade is in trouble
Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that Apple is disappointed in the performance of Apple Arcade and will be shifting their approach to the service by focusing on games that can retain subscribers and canceling other upcoming releases that don't fit... | Read more »
Pixel Petz, an inventive platform for de...
Pixel Petz has built up a sizeable player base thanks to its layered, easy-to-understand creative tools and friendly social experience. It revolves around designing, trading, and playing with a unique collection of pixel art pets, and it's out now... | Read more »
The King of Fighters Allstar's late...
The King of Fighters ALLSTAR, Netmarble's popular action RPG, has once again been updated with a plethora of new content. This includes battle cards, events and 21 new fighters, which increases the already sizeable roster even more. [Read more] | Read more »
Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe, the mobile s...
Square Enix latest mobile spin-off Romancing SaGa Re;univerSe is available now globally for both iOS and Android. It initially launched in Japan back in 2018 where it's proven to be incredibly popular, so now folks in the West can finally see what... | Read more »
Away: Journey to the Unexpected is a sto...
Away: Journey to the Unexpected looks really quite lovely. Stylish, cute, and clearly heavily inspired by Japanese animation, it's amongst the best-looking mobile games on the horizon. Developed by a two-person team, this story-driven rogue-lite... | Read more »
Black Desert Mobile is giving away free...
Pearl Abyss has just announced that it will continue to offer special in-game rewards to Black Desert Mobile players who also happen to be Amazon Prime subscribers. The rewards will be sent out over the next three months, and today's news comes... | Read more »
Golf on Mars "review"
| Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

July 4th Sale: $100 off every 2020 13″ MacBoo...
Apple resellers have new 2020 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off Apple’s MSRP as part of their July 4th sales. Starting at $899, these are the cheapest new 2020 MacBooks for sale anywhere: (1) B... Read more
This hidden deal on Apple’s site can save you...
Are you a local, state, or federal government employee? If so, Apple offers special government pricing on their products, including AirPods, for you as well as immediate family members. Here’s how... Read more
Apple Watch Series 3 models on sale for new l...
Amazon has Apple Watch Series 3 GPS models on sale for $30 off MSRP, starting at only $169. Their prices are the lowest available for these models from any Apple reseller. Choose Amazon as the seller... Read more
Deal Alert! Get these refurbished 2018 13″ Ma...
Apple has restocked and lowered prices on select Certified Refurbished 2018 13″ MacBook Airs, starting at only $679. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a standard Apple one-year... Read more
July 4th Sale: 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros for $2...
B&H Photo has new 2020 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pros on sale for $200 off Apple’s MSRP as part of their July 4th sale. Prices start at $1599. These are the same MacBook Pros sold by Apple in their... Read more
July 1 only: $100 off Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro...
Boost Mobile is offering Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max models for $100 off MSRP with service. Their discount reduces the cost of an iPhone 11/64GB to $599, iPhone 11 Pro to $899 for... Read more
Apple offers $50-$100 Education discount on i...
Purchase a new 12.9″ or 11″ iPad Pro at Apple using your Education discount, and Apple will take $50-$100 off their MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution with a .edu... Read more
Apple has Series 5 Apple Watch models availab...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Apple Watch Series 5 WiFi models available for $60 off MSRP, starting at $339. Each Watch includes Apple’s standard one-year warranty and free shipping: – 44mm Apple... Read more
Use our exclusive price trackers at MacPrices...
Looking for a new 2020 13″ MacBook Air or one of the new 2020 iPad Pros? Our Apple award-winning price trackers are the best place to look for the lowest prices and latest sales on Apple gear. Scan... Read more
Clearance Mac minis available for only $679,...
Apple reseller DataVision has clearance, previous-generation Mac minis available for up to $120 off Apple’s original MSRP, each including free shipping. Prices start at $679. DataVision charges... Read more

Jobs Board

Perioperative RN - ( *Apple* Hill Surgical C...
Perioperative RN - ( Apple Hill Surgical Center) Tracking Code 60593 Job Description Monday - Friday - Full Time Days Possible Saturdays General Summary: Under the Read more
Product Manager, *Apple* Commercial Sales -...
Product Manager, Apple Commercial Sales Austin, TX, US Requisition Number:77652 As an Apple Product Manager for the Commercial Sales team at Insight, you Read more
*Apple* Mac Product Engineer - Barclays (Uni...
Apple Mac EngineerWhippany, NJ Support the development and delivery of solutions, products, and capabilities into the Barclays environment working across technical Read more
Blue *Apple* Cafe Student Worker - Pennsylv...
…enhance your work experience. Student positions are available at the Blue Apple Cafe. Employee meal discount during working hours. Duties include food preparation, Read more
Blue *Apple* Cafe Student Worker - Fall - P...
…to enhance your work experience. Student positions are available at the Blue Apple Cafe. Employee meal discount during working hours is provided. Duties include food Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.