Graphics in Store

Entrepreneurs

There are very few places where the average person can walk in off the street and test drive a NeXT; company executives in Redwood City still can't picture an individual user writing out a personal check and carrying home a machine.

But that's just what's happening in San Francisco at MACadam Computers, a medi-um-sized computer dealer in the city's growing South of Market district. The shop, which started out as a Macintosh value-added reseller nearly four years ago, draws its customers from the ranks of artists and multimedia programmers who have settled nearby in an area known as Multimedia Gulch.

The idea to sell NeXT hardware and software in a storefront setting, complete with the requisite number of professionals and a couple of friendly dogs, belongs to two people owner Tom Santos and salesman Hal Fox-Palmer who are convinced that NeXT sales will burgeon in the coming years.

Santos has been around the microcomputer industry since the earliest days of the Macintosh. He purchased his first NeXT system three years ago and made his first overtures about becoming an authorized NeXT dealer in a matter of months.

At first, "They told us we were in the wrong market, and that it would be a long time before we sold our first machine," Santos remembers. "Back then, NeXT still believed that most of their systems would be sold through Businessland" an assumption that would turn out to be ill-founded. The would-be giant retailer failed spectacularly, providing MACadam with the opening it needed to approach NeXT again. "We resumed our talks in December 1991 and became an authorized dealer in April 1992," Santos reports.

MACadam sold its first NeXT to a customer who walked into the store less than two weeks later, according to Fox-Palmer. Now, while the sales of Macintosh peripherals, software, and customized systems continue to pay MACadam's monthly rent, sales of black hardware are rising steadily.

More important, according to MACadam's owner, is that the store is filling a previously unaddressed need: It's a place where people who want to explore the NeXT can sit down and use the machines without feeling pressured to buy.

The idea has caught on particularly well since last spring. "We've had people call us from San Diego, catch a plane, and come into the store," says Santos. "We had one customer get off a plane from Germany and buy a system." According to Fox-Palmer, "We learned that if someone came in and spent 20 minutes with the NeXT, their love affair with the Mac was over."

Of course the machine doesn't always sell itself. The team at MACadam cautions that the Mac's proliferation and the availability of inexpensive 50MHz Intel 80486-based workstations running software such as Microsoft's Windows or IBM's OS/2 add new levels of complexity to NeXT sales. "Most walk-in customers need to be educated about the benefits of a NeXT workstation," says Santos.

But some of the new applications are helping with hardware sales, Fox-Palmer notes. "We're beginning to sell systems to local graphic artists who want to run Altsys Virtuoso. That's good for us, since our store is within blocks of about 200 artists."

MACadam's future in the NeXT market looks like it might be bright. Santos and Fox-Palmer figure they are poised to catch and ride NeXT's big wave for 1993: NeXT-STEP '486. In fact, Santos expects the '486 environment to do so well that he could one day be selling more software than hardware. The only constants, he believes, will be NeXT and the foot traffic.

by Jim Forbes