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Articles: When a Vote Costs a Buck

I often think of the dollars I spend as votes. I'm not sure everyone thinks of their expenses the same way, but I believe it's a good consumer strategy.

Here is my thinking: when you spend your money at a particular establishment, you are basically "voting" for that business to stay around. You are telling them "I appreciate the service and/or price you are offering, so I am going to give you my dollars to help you stay in business so that I might use you again."

Other than appreciating and confirming things like convenience, price and service, I also like to use my "voting dollars" to encourage competition. As an example, when Blockbuster threatened to become the dominant video rental business in this country, I switched my video viewing habits to Netflix. I like to have choices. So if one company gets a little too dominant, I'll "vote" with my dollars to support the competition (unless they're stinky of course, in which case I'll vote against them until they figure it out or go out of business).

It's one of the reasons I feel even Windows users should support Apple. Why in the world would anyone want one company to essentially monopolize their computing experience? Even if Apple were to gain 50% market share, Windows won't go away (and would probably get a lot better). I've never understood Windows users who are passionately anti-Apple. My word, man, do you really think Microsoft would step up R&D if their last vestige of competition went away? Do you really think Microsoft would be introducing "Zune," their new music player, if Apple hadn't invented the iPod and made listening and organizing your music insanely great? Even if Zune ends up being something awesome (which I don't expect), it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the presence of Apple. So be glad for competition. And support it with your dollars, which is the only way we can vote for continued competition.

I had a recent experience that reminded me why I generally try and use my voting dollars to support smaller companies as well. I went into Home Depot looking for some lumber for my deck. I brought in a sample of what I needed. Eventually I found help, but when we compared my sample to what they had in stock, the man who was helping me had no idea if the differences we saw in coloration were the result of some sort of treatment on my wood, and whether the wood they had would react to stain the same way. I ended up convincing him to allow me to take home a small sample on which I could experiment. On the way home, I noticed an independently-owned building supply store and pulled in. The man behind the counter immediately identified my sample with a precise description of the wood (something the Home Depot guy couldn't do), led me to their inventory, and offered to cut up the long pieces into exactly the lengths I needed, something that would save me a great deal of time. At that point I was kicking myself for beginning my process with the Big Box guys.

I like to think PowerMax is a lot like that independently-owned building supply store. With competition from volume-based "catalogers" and Apple itself, we have to work hard to earn our customers' votes. By offering trade-ins, a huge selection of pre-owned and refurbished Macs in addition to the latest and greatest, assigning individual reps to each customer so our customers can call and talk to a friendly, familiar voice, and generally offering consultations, opinions and advice on thousands of products, we make ourselves a bit different. I appreciate it when customers recognize that difference and vote for our continued presence.

But I also have to wonder at those who vote for Apple's direct efforts without thinking of the possible long-term repercussions. It surely should be obvious that Apple has the ability, like no one else ever could, to become the only source of Apple product down the road. They do a great job at sending tons of emails to everyone letting them know they can buy direct. They've set up a network of some very nice showroom/retail stores, which showcase the Macs in the way they deserve: in a very classy, upscale environment.

But I'm a bit puzzled as to why anyone would actually think they're getting an advantage by buying direct from a manufacturer. First of all, they lose their second source of support. When you buy from a reseller, you have their support in addition to the manufacturer's support. Besides that, resellers are generally better at analyzing issues between the manufacturer and third party hardware and software, not to mention being more "street level savvy" on current issues. Secondly, especially in the case of Apple, you're "voting" for the possibility of only one source left standing to buy your product. Computer retailers, especially Apple resellers, live right on the edge in terms of their margin proposition. In the future, as a Mac fan, I do not want to think there might be only one source for my Mac. So, my obvious self-interest aside, I would support any reseller I could.

An Apple executive once told me buying direct from Apple is about the most expensive way you can do it, and he didn't quite understand why they were doing even the amount of business they were. We all know Apple has a certain amount of cachet that puts stars in some people's eyes. But it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to support the potential for the elimination of competition. When you buy a Mac from a reseller, you're still buying it from Apple, and because of the overhead of running direct operations, you're still giving Apple as much revenue as if you had bought it from them. You're fully supporting Apple and that competition, but also supporting competition within the Mac community. And competition benefits you, the consumer, in the long run.

As with national elections, a lot of people think their measly little vote won't count for anything. I won't go into all the reasons that's not true here, but I also like to think we all have a little social responsibility to consider a broader picture when making personal decisions. If we all plunge ahead with only our personal five-minute-into-the-future interests in mind, we will all ultimately suffer. I can guarantee that.

So keep your choices open. Vote with your dollars for continued competition. Whether it's from us, or any reseller. Vote for Mac to compete with Windows. Vote for your local specialty store, who can give you the unique service you may need some day. And when you do vote for PowerMax, just know we really appreciate it on a number of levels. Don't hesitate to let us know when we can do more to earn those votes.

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