The two shops and website are part of distributor Renaissance’s education business; while getting to grips with students’ IT needs right down to the course they’re taking is critical to its success.
Student IT was formed to capitalise on Apple’s resurgence among the tertiary sector in recent years, says Graham Prentice, national tertiary education manager for the Apple Division at Renaissance.
“For the last five to six years Apple has been listening to what the market wants and responding, but prior to that they weren’t supporting the developers. Universities are starting to use this kit again, so students who are using it in institutions are asking ‘where do we buy it’? There was the recognition that we needed to be in front of the students.”
Another trend working in Student IT’s favour is students’ increasing demand for laptops. “There’s a strong movement for universities to suggest students look at portables,” says Prentice. “It saves on the infrastructure of the university and that’s the space we’ve put ourselves in.”
Student IT sells about three to four portables to every desktop, particularly MacBooks.
Prentice believes staff who are experts in Apple and Macs are vital.
“It’s similar to what Apple has done in other geographies, they’ve opened stores with specialist Mac folk in them. When a customer is new to Macs, they need to interface with someone who understands the Mac platform.”
Student IT is different from other Apple and general resellers, as staff must also know the intricacies of student bank and government loan requirements and supplying quotes, to effectively serve the student market, Prentice says.
“That’s hard for a retail channel partner to provide. A lot happens in the tertiary sector you can’t expect other retailers to know, because it’s not their specialty.”
Prentice, a former school principal, has been with Renaissance’s education business for 13 years and is a former general manager of its Apple division. He has also been through the group’s transition from a private to a public company.
Student IT’s first store in Auckland was opened in late-February, after being refitted in nine working days, in time for the university’s orientation week.
More than 3000 customers visited in the first three weeks of business and store manager Dion Holmes describes the busy time as “absolutely insane”.
The Auckland store has been well positioned near Auckland University (in particular its architecture and art faculties) and Auckland University of Technology’s design school.
It also makes the most of foot traffic, as students get off buses stopping over the road from the store.
Holmes previously worked at Big Byte in Palmerston North and says the tertiary student crowd is quite different to that of broader retail.
“Most of them know a bit about machines and what they’re looking for. They’re more IT savvy and more eager to grab hold of the new technology.”
A Dunedin shop was opened in July in a good position, as it is a block from Otago University’s campus. Prentice says about 5000 students are flatting within a kilometre of the shop.
Other than Apple, the stores carry Renaissance brands such as Adobe, Microsoft, Wacom, Canon, Tomato Flash, Asus, NEC and Belkin.
Prentice says targeting tertiary students helps vendors promote specific lines.
“These guys [shop staff] are critical in saying if you buy you have to have ID. We can hand on heart say to a vendor if you have an end-of-line product or a special to put in the store it will get sold to a student or [university] staff member.”
In the past couple of years Renaissance has offered product bundles that cater to particular study programmes, such as design, education, health, computer science and music. The design bundle, for example, includes a MacBook Pro loaded with Adobe and Macromedia software and extra RAM.
Prentice says Student IT is happy for students to compare prices on other online stores. Most Student IT Apple products are at the same price as Apple’s online store as the vendor sets pricing, but in many cases the shop can be cheaper because it only serves tertiary students and staff.
“[Other online stores] are just another place they can compare. Sometimes we can price up what they want and it’s cheaper so it’s a pleasant surprise.”