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More signs that Apple may open stores

While the computer maker's sales are hitting a snag, the company may be preparing to open its own stores.

While Apple Computer's sales have hit a snag, the company may be preparing to open its own stores.

Gateway spokesman John Spelich said today that Apple has been looking to hire workers from Gateway's Country Store operation.

"We are aware that Apple has tried to hire some of our Country Store employees," Spelich said. "They have clearly looked at our model and think it's a (good) model and want to replicate it."

An Apple representative declined to comment.

Late last year, Apple hired Allen Moyer, a former Sony executive involved in retail projects such as the futuristic Metreon retail-entertainment complex in San Francisco. Observers said at the time that it was a strong indication the company is interested in creating retail outlets. Apple stores, however, have yet to emerge.

The obvious liability in such a move is the risk of alienating other Apple retailers, said PC Data analyst Stephen Baker. But if the Apple stores are limited to a few, high-profile locations, it could actually drive traffic to traditional Apple resellers, he said.

"It raises the visibility of the company to those who don't know about it," Baker said.


Gartner analyst Kevin Knox says that although earnings warnings by Apple, Intel and other PC-related companies may be sickening Wall Street, the PC market as a whole remains relatively healthy.

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Company-owned retail outlets also can feed the bottom line. The Country Stores have been instrumental in market share gains by Gateway, as well as its efforts to sell training, services and other "beyond-the-box" items, according to analysts and Gateway executives.

Baker said Apple appears to be targeting hip locations in big cities as opposed to suburban retail areas. If it moves from New York and San Francisco to outlying residential areas, it could ruffle more feathers.

"If they are going to do a Gateway--a thousand stores--that could have a real impact on the retail channel," Baker said.

Apple already sells a large number of its computers through its online store. Baker said many Apple customers buy direct from Apple in the belief that doing so benefits the company more.

If it goes ahead with the store idea, Baker said there are other issues Apple will have to iron out, such as how to fill a store with their relatively small product lineup.