Store aims for expert PC user Computer City to open today in Glen Burnie

November 10, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

For some computer-wise consumers, a trip to the computer store has become much like a trip to the grocery store. Alan C. Bush, the president of Computer City, is banking on it.

The subsidiary of Tandy Corp. is opening today a "super store," complete with wide aisles and shopping carts, in the same Glen Burnie neighborhood as The Price Club, The Sports Authority and Home Depot on East Ordnance Road.

"These are our type of co-tenants," Mr. Bush said. "They appeal to value-conscious, upscale customers."

The Glen Burnie store is Computer City's second in the Baltimore area. The firm opened a store in Timonium in April.

The company is aiming at highly sophisticated personal computer users who have little need for help from sales people, Mr. Bush explained.

"They'll pick up a shopping cart, pick up a computer and some software, throw some memory chips into the shopping cart, almost like potato chips, grab a Diet Coke at the customer lounge, go up to the register and be out in 10 minutes," he predicted.

This new brand of super-confident computer shopper, combined with technological advances that allow consumers to mix and match separate pieces of equipment off the shelf, has led to the growing popularity of the computer super store concept, Mr. Bush said.

Tandy is one of about a half-dozen companies riding the mass-market, computer retailing wave with super stores.

Its subsidiary, Computer City, has led the way, opening its 20 stores in cities across the United States and in Europe in the past year. The company plans 12 to 16 more stores next year.

Company officials say they have the only retail outlet in the country that carries six leading PC brands -- Apple, Compaq, IBM, Tandy, AST and Hewlett-Packard -- under one roof.

Those manufacturers typically won't sell through outlets that carry competitors, Mr. Bush said.

But Computer City officials persuaded them to do so by stressing that they are backed by Tandy, a Fortune 100 company, and that computer super stores will attract the customers they want.

"There's a tremendous stake in the PC business and a desire to grab market share," Mr. Bush said. "Most of these companies realize the super store format is the way to go."

Store officials promise they can offer lower prices by buying in bulk and by relying on the low-overhead, high-volume formula that has become standard super store strategy.

With an average of 25,000 square feet of floor space, the store can stock up to 5,000 computers and accessories, dwarfing average-sized computer stores.

Merchandise at Computer City is arranged in wide aisles designated by large, red and yellow signs. PCs are grouped by vendor. Hardware and accessories make up the store's middle sections. The software sits to the left.

Large monitors, suspended from the ceiling throughout the store, keep customers informed on state-of-the-art technology, equipment and software programs. The store also services equipment in the store and offers computer training classes.

The Glen Burnie store employs 60 people -- including salespeople who can advise even the most computer illiterate.

About 40 percent of the retailer's business comes from corporate, government and school accounts, said Mr. Bush, who expects to tap into major companies like Westinghouse.

But the proliferation of mega-stores won't necessarily lead to the demise of the small computer store, because each one serves a separate niche, Mr. Bush said.

Computer City, for example, is not equipped to design tailor-made computer systems.

Max Hamby, owner of Comp-U-Type in Glen Burnie, said that the new store probably will cut deeper into the business of large retailers, such as Montgomery Ward, Sears and Office Depot, than into his business.

"People who sell a lot of computers that are boxed up, it'll take a good share of that market," he said. "But for people who do sales, service and configuring computer systems, it will have little effect on that."

And he's not convinced Computer City can beat everyone's price. He said he saw an encyclopedia he sells for $79 advertised for more than $200 at the Timonium store.

"They don't have experience in the marketplace, so whatever the list price is, they come down 10 percent," he said. "That's good in some products, not in others."

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