Microsoft sets up shop today
The software giant is opening its Galleria store today, offering high-tech experiences as it builds its brand
David Kaplan / Houston Chronicle
On Wednesday, a Microsoft Store employee stood in front of a 103-inch screen while co-workers watched. He was trying out the video game Michael Jackson Experience for Kinect.
As he danced to the song Beat It, his every move was duplicated on the screen by his animated likeness, and his co-workers cheered and laughed.
Starting today, they must share the toys with customers.
The Microsoft Store — the first in Houston and Texas and the 10th worldwide – is having its grand opening today in the Galleria.
The store offers a variety of high-tech experiences for customers. They can dance to Kinect. They can make art and play video games and chess on one of four touch-screen surface tables. And the more serious-minded can get free IT technical advice for their small businesses.
One might be tempted to compare the Microsoft Store to another retail operation in the Galleria – the Apple Store, a phenomenally successful concept.
But some retail consultants say it’s unfair to lump them in the same category. It’s like apples and oranges, so to speak.
Microsoft’s stores are much more about building brand than driving product sales, said Josh Olson, a technology analyst at Edward Jones.
“Keep in mind that Apple Stores are selling Apple hardware, whereas a Microsoft Store is essentially showcasing its software on various third-party hardware, including brands such as Samsung, HP and Dell,” Olson said. The exceptions at a Microsoft Store would be xBox and Kinect, which are Microsoft brands, he noted.
An Apple Store feel
The 4,400-square-foot Microsoft Store is sleek, and its walls dance with high-resolution digital images.
The general store design reminds Olson of an Apple Store, he said.
“Microsoft Stores are very well designed, attractive stores,” said Jeff Green, president of Jeff Green Partners, a retail feasibility consulting firm in Phoenix.
Products inside the store include computers, Windows Phones, software for games, business and education and the xBox gaming and entertainment console.
For a fee, customers can decorate their laptops and phones with laminates, called skins, that come in various shapes and sizes.
The store is at street level at Galleria I between Giorgio Armani and St. John.
It benefits both Microsoft and Apple to be in the same mall, Green said, because they can draw cross-shopping customers.
“Microsoft has disclosed very little in terms of product level sales through their retail footprint,” Olson said, “but I think that we can infer from the additional store openings that traffic and sales have been strong enough to justify expansion.”
Entertainment products such as the xBox gaming and entertainment console and the Kinect game, which is played on xBox, as well as mobile devices are most likely among the strongest-selling products in the stores, Olson speculated.
An xBox starts at $199, and the Kinect is $149 at the store.
“The number of supportable Microsoft Stores in the U.S. is likely much smaller than for Apple,” Green said.
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York City, said: “At the moment, Apple is the most successful retail concept in the U.S. Their stores make at least $7,000 in sales per square foot, which is unheard of. Best Buy, in comparison, takes in about $900.”
Apple has shown the ability to continually come up with brilliant, in-demand products, he noted.
“It was the right thing to do for Microsoft to come up with its own stores,” he said.
The first Microsoft Store opened in 2009 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The first Apple stores opened in 2001, and there are now 326 worldwide.
In the Houston area, Apple has stores in the Galleria, Baybrook, First Colony, Memorial City, Willowbrook and Woodlands malls. An Apple Flagship store is also under construction in Highland Village.
Officials from Apple declined to comment on Microsoft Stores, and representatives from Microsoft declined to comment on Apple Stores.
A social event
Shaila Warner, a project manager at Houston-based mobile marketing firm ChaiOne, plans to attend the Microsoft Store opening today and will probably meet friends there.
“I’m a tech geek,” she said, and she has remained loyal to Microsoft over the years. She is also a serious gamer and likes to play on the xBox.
The store’s theater area, which features the 103-inch screen, can be used for meetings and video presentations by businesses and organizations in the Houston community, store manager Jen Martinsen said.
At least one Microsoft Store customer has become an online celebrity, Martinsen noted. A boy around 4 was videotaped in the Seattle area store dancing to Kinect, and he has since gotten well more than 1 million hits on YouTube, she said.