Microsoft Stores Pull Double Duty as Small Business Hubs

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted September 28, 2016

Nestled among the high-end retailers that flank Fifth Ave in midtown Manhattan, sits the flagship Microsoft Store. Visitors can check out the latest Surface devices, along with Windows PCs and laptops from the Redmond, Wash. technology giant's hardware partners. Gamers can take Xbox hardware for a spin and—during a recent visit by this writer—some intrepid souls were immersed in a virtual reality experience.

Helpful associates answer questions and guide guests through the store's sleek and spotless three-story interior, helping them find the products or answers they seek. It's all reminiscent of the Apple Store experience—Apple's own flagship store looms several blocks to the north—which is a high customer-service benchmark to hit.

Helping consumers feel at home discover the wide array of Windows offerings is only a part of Microsoft's brick-and-mortar mission. Another is to engage with the small business community and to outfit entrepreneurs with the hardware and software tools that get the job done and help them succeed, said Michael Mento, business sales specialist at the flagship Microsoft Store in New York City.

Microsoft Stores Pull Double Duty as Small Business Hubs

Tech Help Close at Hand

Microsoft operates more than 100 retail locations across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. That means—in the U.S. alone—practically every person lives within 20 miles of a Microsoft retail store. Accustomed to seeing consumers mill around their local Microsoft Store, small business owners may not be aware that they're a short car (or subway) ride from expert tech advice and support services.

"Entrepreneurs may not even realize that we're here to help support them," Mento told Small Business Computing. In each Microsoft Store, professionals can find a business sales specialist, like Mento, who will provide technical support services and expert guidance on the devices, software, and services that fit the requirements of their businesses.

Can't make it to the store? The store will come to you. Three business sales specialists are currently assigned to the Microsoft Store in Manhattan, due simply to sheer size of the New York City metropolitan area and the countless small businesses that call it home.

Whether it involves solving technical issues at the Answer Desk, beginning a hardware refresh, or venturing into the cloud, Microsoft's business sales specialists can help connect small businesses with the company's homegrown- and partner-business technology ecosystem. "We want to be known as the help desk of your small business," Mento said.

Although the Manhattan flagship store has been open less than a year, the small business community has taken notice. Whether dropping by to evaluate some laptops or to take on an ambitious digital transformation project, area startups and established businesses alike—a 50/50 split according to Mento—find professional technology solutions among Fifth Avenue's glitzy boutiques and shops.

SMB Zones and Flexible Financing

This month, Microsoft announced a new program called SMB Zones that let entrepreneurs and small business IT experts kick off their next technology project or give Dell's business PCs a try.

"Microsoft Stores now have dedicated SMB Zones that feature hands-on access to business-grade technology and technical guidance tailored with business owners and entrepreneurs in mind," said Cindy Bates, vice president of U.S. SMB and Distribution at Microsoft, in a Sept. 15 announcement. "Partners can take advantage of SMB Zones as a great space to connect with their customers and showcase the latest Microsoft products we have to offer as well as their own value-added services."

Also is new is the Accelerate Your Business program, which includes business-class Dell PCs, Windows 10 Pro training and support with leasing terms as slow as $25 per month. Alternately, customers can buy the bundle upfront. For companies that prefer Microsoft's own Surface Pro or Surface Book, the company offers a similar subscription-based program called Microsoft Surface Membership, Mento said.

Small Business Community Nerve Center

Most Microsoft Stores host in-store events and workshops aimed at helping small businesses get caught up with the latest hardware, fend off cyberattacks, or pick up expert advice on ways to engage customers. The New York store's Community Theater boasts a configurable area on the second floor overlooking New York's bustling midtown, a fitting backdrop for networking events and meet-ups.

And Microsoft isn't waiting for small businesses to show up at their doorstep. The company's outreach efforts are a two-way street, said Mento. He and colleagues "go out to different networking events to better integrate ourselves with the small business community as a whole."

This link will help you to find a Microsoft Store near you.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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