It wasn't so long ago that, when Ted Ellis needed to get one of his company's Mac laptops fixed, he'd have to make an appointment at a nearby Apple Store's Genius Bar, just like anyone else. Being a business customer didn't get him any kind of special service.
That has changed in the last year, though. Now when Ellis -- a desktop support engineer at Announce Media in Mountain View, California -- needs help, he can make a same-day appointment at the Apple Store for service. If a laptop will be out of action for a while, he can get a loaner to temporarily replace it. And if a new employee needs some instruction on how to use that laptop, Apple will do the training.
These are all services that Apple Stores now offer under the Joint Venture program, a year-old business-focused service that signals Apple's intent to serve corporate customers as well as individuals at its retail outlets.
"They're always looking for a big growth opportunity," said Stephen Baker, a tech industry analyst with the NPD Group. The enterprise sector is one where Apple has "had a small presence -- and have the opportunity to gain presence pretty quickly."
Ellis, for one, is grateful.
"It's streamlined our process of getting a warranty item -- whether it's a MacBook Pro or one of our iPads -- in for service," Ellis told Macworld. "It's extremely important."
How it works
Businesses pay a starting annual fee of $499 to participate in their local Apple Store's Joint Venture program. That fee covers five "systems" -- an employee outfitted with a company-issued MacBook, iPhone, and iPad would count as one -- and another $99 per year for each additional system beyond that.
For that money, businesses get the following services:
Set-up: When new systems are bought, Apple Store representatives will help companies transfer data from old computers to the new ones; they'll also install any new software purchased either online or in-store from Apple.
Training: Companies can schedule up to three two-hour in-store training sessions for up to 10 employees each, covering everything from Mac and iOS basics to more complex topics, such as using Keynote to create presentations. The stores also offer monthly workshops at which employees from Joint Venture companies can get up to speed on Mac basics or IT support issues.
Support: Businesses get their own dedicated Joint Venture sites, which can be used to schedule repair time at the Genius Bar (customers must still take their hardware to the Apple Store) or training workshops. If extensive repairs are needed, the store will loan a replacement unit loaded with office software. Businesses can also schedule regular "tune-ups" of their machines.
It's the ability to ensure quick service that most appeals to Announce Media's Ellis. He estimates Joint Venture has saved his company $50,000 in otherwise-lost productivity. "We have a lot of engineers who write a lot of code. I have to pry their hands off the computer just to do standard maintenance."
Before the advent of Joint Venture, Ellis said, "We were basically in the same position everybody else was" when it came to support needs. "We could call our (Apple Store) business representative, but we couldn't get in to see someone the same day."
Now, he says, "I can make a same-day Genius appointment, or schedule it for two weeks out."
One other benefit, Ellis said: While Apple Stores already had the aforementioned "business representatives" to deal with enterprise issues, the stores' business teams have been beefed up, making it easier to get enterprise-focused service whenever the Apple Store is open -- even for companies that don't have a Joint Venture account.
The impact of the Joint Venture program and the business teams at Apple Stores on the company's bottom-line is, of course, unknown, as is the degree to which such services have helped the company make inroads into the enterprise sector. Apple doesn't comment on such issues.
But NPD's Baker noted that other companies, such as Best Buy and Microsoft, also offer business support through local outlets. That hasn't helped those vendors make major inroads at big companies, he said, but it could help spur growth in the small- and mid-sized business markets.
"There are a lot of routes to market, but one of them is through the stores, and it's smart of Apple to use that presence to drive that interaction," Baker said.
That approach may require patience on Apple's part, however.
"They weren't the first, and they won't be the last to use local retail to reach out to local businesses," Baker said. "It's been pretty difficult for most companies to get it right. We'll see if they can accomplish it."
The effort has at least one big fan.
"For us," Ellis said of Joint Venture, "it's a really big deal."
This story, "Businesses get special service at Apple Stores" was originally published by Macworld.