On November 22 Microsoft officially opened its 110th retail Store in the Westfield – Montgomery Mall in Bethesda MD. We gave you a sample of the actual opening moments on video, and an interview with the Store Manager earlier. Ironically, I purchased a new Surface Pro 3 at the opening itself, and when I got home my Surface Pro got wind of it and died, so it’s taken a bit longer to get this out to you than I had hoped, but, courtesy of my new Surface Pro 3 – here’s how it all happened.
To be honest, I’ve never been attracted to store openings, visions of slick guys in cheap suits and toaster giveaways were what came to mind, but here at MicrosoftProductReviews.com we will go to any lengths to keep you in the loop so I hitched up my boots and went to see what it’s all about.
I arrived at the mall about an hour before the opening. I wasn’t expecting too much, this was a Microsoft store, not a destination that usually arouses a lot of passion in people. Since the first 200 people in line would get a chance to meet Stephen Strasburg (a Major League Baseball player for those who don’t recognize the name). I figured there would be several hundred sports die-hards, and a few looking for opening day bargains. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
There were many hundreds of people, of all ages and interests, literally filling that arm of the mall. As the photos try to show, the crowd began at the Microsoft Store, which is at a prime location on the corner opposite an Anchor Store (Macy’s) and a Starbucks. It then ran all the way down one arm of the mall to another Anchor Store, then did a 180 turn and ran all the way down the same arm (on the opposite side of the arm), pausing only briefly to make a gap for the tomb-like Apple Store, and then kept on going all the way to the Microsoft Store again! There was also a separate line that snaked around in front of Macy’s and went down the other arm of the mall a ways. I was looking at between 400-500 people and it wasn’t open yet!
It’s worth noting too that this isn’t a huge store. It has ~1300 sqft of well laid out space, but at the moment it was clearly dwarfed by the line up. Translation, once the store opened, these people were going to have to wait a while to get in, so they must be VERY interested in getting their hands on some new Microsoft products!
The Opening Ceremony began with a crowd-raising talk by the new Store Manager (you can read our interview with her here), explaining that there were several things to look forward to in the next few minutes. There was a giveaway to the person who had the best Tweet sent out from the line, and a short speech by the Director of Economic Development for the County – Steve Silverman. Microsoft Vice President Fred Humphries had the enviable job of giving away some $625,000 in technology Awards to a variety of organizations.
And then there was the actual opening. I won’t spend time describing it, you can see the video of it here. Much more fun than you would expect from a stodgy old company like Microsoft.
The scene inside the store was initially nearly bedlam. The Xbox and Tablet deals were disappearing fast, but inside all of this was a professional and unflappable staff that calmly helped people out and completed sales as quickly as possible.
Personally, I scored a number of great deals, as well as regular purchases. Frankly, the store is a dangerous place! I was impressed with the way the staff had been prepped to be able to manage the entire purchase process from their hands as opposed to having to try to work thru the crowd to a register. Everything was handled quickly and efficiently by my salesperson via a Windows Phone that was snapped into a base with a card scanner. Once she had my Windows ID everything was smooth as silk including emailing me a receipt within a minute (neither of us wanted to fight through the crowd just to pick that up!)
The store layout is simple and will be pleasing to wander through when it is a bit less crowded. Tables with product category examples of machines are arrayed in an easy to navigate fashion with plenty of room to wander about.
Wall displays on the interior wall side do the same and hold many electronic Tchotchkes like chargers for the Microsoft Band, and, by the way, they had quite a stock of them.
There was a nice array of Windows Phones to look at and play with in several parts of the store. This shelf was on the wall towards the rear section. Others could be found on tables towards the front of the store, ready to be spotted as you walked in or just passing by.
The rear third of the store can be quickly reconfigured to serve as a training space or open area for any purpose. Microsoft calls this space the “Community Theater”. When the store opened it was basically piled high with Xbox 360s and the $99 Tablet specials. In a few hours that pile had been winnowed down and the space was quickly reconfigured to serve as the space for the meet and greet even with MLB Player Steven Strasburg, who spent some time entertaining the lucky 200 first people in line at the store. He was bowling in an Xbox One on a multi-display panel that formed the back wall of the store to good effect and got lots of applause whenever he bowled a strike!
I left to stash my purchases in my car and grabbed a quick lunch. I could hear the crowd upstairs even in the noise and activity downstairs in the food court. I returned to the store to interview the new Manager and then made another swing thru the store. Still full of shoppers and the line still snaking around the mall. People seemed happy to wait however, as the excitement and the deals were still in stock.
Overall, my impression of the event was that it was kind of like going to a fair – lots of fun for people of many ages and interests, but in this case, a clear focus on tech deals was obvious. I enjoyed myself, which was a bit of a surprise as I’m not really a crowd person, so I would have to say when Microsoft opens a store near you I would encourage you to go down – early – and be a part of the fun.