If things weren't tough enough for Research in Motion already, a report today says Apple is planning to open a new retail store in RIM's hometown of Waterloo, Ontario this Saturday. Ouch. What's next? A Googleplex next door to the BlackBerry-maker's headquarters?
I've long advocated for RIM to open its own line of retail stores to help maintain mindshare in the smartphone space and create a similar pedestal to showcase its own products. The Apple Store in Waterloo just makes RIM's lack of a dedicated retail presence more glaring. True, Apple has a much broader product line that spans desktop and notebook computers as well as the iPod in all its forms. But RIM has its own tablet computer now in the PlayBook and just unveiled a revamped BlackBerry lineup aimed at better challenging the iPhone.
On top of that, if RIM wants to broaden beyond its core businesses users to attract more consumers, a more aggressive retail strategy fits with that objective. Again, as important as any incremental sales these stores would generate would be the marketing value they could add. Think of all the free publicity Apple generates when lines wrap around its stores in anticipation of a new iPhone launch and local media follow to cover what's become a cultural event in its own right.
Of course, a new BlackBerry is unlikely to inspire the same kind of frenzy that greets new Apple products, but I recall the debut of the BlackBerry Storm a few years back leading to long lines outside Verizon stores in New York, San Francisco and other cities. Why give that free media opportunity to a carrier when it could go to BlackBerry?
With its own venues, BlackBerry would also be able to better control the in-store experience instead of relying on carrier partners like Verizon to handle customer service. Apple's reputation for strong service has a lot to do with the army of trained staffers that patrol its retail floors and man the Genius Bar.
Of course, Android has managed to take over the smartphone world without having any physical stores dedicated to phones running the Google platform. That's a bit different since Google doesn't actually make the Android handsets itself (except for the Nexus) and doesn't have the same investment on the hardware side as RIM or Apple.
Even so, a handful of Android Market shops (think giant Android robot out front) strategically placed near key Apple Store locations isn't a terrible idea either. And given Google's deep pockets, that's probably more feasible than RIM rolling out brick-and-mortar stores anytime soon. After all, it recently laid off 2,000 employees to streamline operations in the wake of declining quarterly sales and a weakened outlook. On the other hand, there's another smartphone maker in Waterloo that's probably hiring right now.