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Sharing an Apple

Adapt or Die Dept.
By BRETT MICHEL  |  May 21, 2008

BITING THE APPLE: Apple-reseller Tech Superpowers (TSP) owner Michael Oh buried a TSP T-shirt in the sidewalk in front of the Apple Store.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the storied Red Sox/Yankees rivalry will tell you that Bostonians sure can hold a grudge. So it was a rare sight to witness the warm welcome and massive crowds that greeted the opening of the Apple Store at 815 Boylston Street this past Thursday evening. Not too long ago, Steve Job’s tech giant snubbed Boston when Apple declined to attend the Macworld expo after it moved back here from the Big Apple, in 2004. Apparently, the unveiling of the company’s roughly 20,000-square-foot Back Bay space, a three-story building with a sleek glass façade that is Apple’s largest storefront in America, has all but erased the earlier slight.

Still, there may be a few to sling stones at the iRetailer across from the Pru, but Michael Oh won’t be among them. Apple reseller Tech Superpowers (TSP), which Oh founded 17 years ago while he was a student at MIT, is headquartered at 252 Newbury Street, directly behind 815 Boylston. TSP has staked its business on the appeal of the Apple brand and the loyalty of its customers. Now that Oh’s primary vendor has become his largest neighborhood competitor, is he worried about an adverse affect?

Not outwardly. Since learning two years ago of Apple’s plans to open a flagship store just 50 feet from his operation (“I read about it in the paper”), initial anxiety gave way to a shift in focus. While TSP’s lower-level walk-in will continue to offer a quaint Internet café, it simply can’t accommodate the huge number of customers that will visit Apple’s behemoth. Hence, Oh has reshaped his company, cultivating a corporate client base and services that he hopes will complement Apple’s consumer-based business.

“There’s going to be a lot of back-and-forth. We’ll be able to refer them people who walk in and want a particular thing that, if we don’t have it in stock, well, there’s a whole warehouse of Apple stuff out back.” Apple “doesn’t do installations, they don’t do data recovery if your hard-drive crashes, they don’t do repair-rentals like we do.” TSP even offers use of a laptop while your computer’s in the shop, says Oh, another service Apple doesn’t offer.

During the past year a Web-cam trained from TSP’s rear window has tracked Apple’s construction progress. In April, if you watched carefully, you might have caught a glimpse of Oh, shovel in hand, now famously burying one of his company’s blue T-shirts in the sidewalk just prior to concrete being poured.

In truth, Oh has nothing but respect for Apple, which explains why he's built his business around their product.

“People really enjoy the idea of David versus Goliath,” he says. But he prefers a different telling; one where the two band together, “hopefully conquering something else,” he says, grinning, “like Microsoft!”

  Topics: This Just In , Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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