Teresa Rivera first joined Tekserve in 1998. Now a vice president, she plies a time-tested approach to tech retail.
Tell us about Tekserve’s beginning.
The business started in the living room of Dick Demenus, one of the two original owners. He and the other cofounder, David Lerner, were engineers and inventors and they were using Macs to create their products. At the time, 30 years ago, no one really had a business fixing Apple computers, and because the two were electronic engineers, they created a business out of their own repair needs.
But today Tekserve is much more than just a shop for fixing Apple computers.
Well, up until 1998 Tekserve was strictly an Apple repair shop—Dick and David had zero interest in selling because they weren’t sales people. That’s where I came in—I used to own a little computer store in the East Village, and I knew the guys here, so when I decided to close the store I came over to Tekserve and started their sales division.
How did that affect business?
It was kind of an "if you build it they will come" moment for us. At the time, Steve Jobs had just come back to Apple, and by the summer of 1998 the first iMacs were released, the candy-colored ones, and it was kind of revolutionary. It was a coincidence and a perfect storm—Tekserve had a great customer base in service and when I joined, I brought my customers from my store with me. There were no Apple Stores yet. Everyone was building a website. We grew very fast—we went from being a-million-dollar-a-year accessories sales business to a $40 million business by 2002. It was a great collaboration and a LOT of fun.
Tekserve is a brick-and-mortar shop operating in a world in which the consumer is increasingly making buying decisions from behind a screen. How does that affect your sales strategy?
There is plenty of opportunity for our customers to go online, but when someone needs expert advice, there’s nothing better than a face-to-face conversation. We know that a lot of people base their decisions on what other people are talking about online. Today, we are really focused on social media and in-store events, because we know the new generation in New York City has grown up with the Apple Store, and if we want to differentiate ourselves we have to create a voice through opening up conversations.
At the end of the day, what sets Tekserve apart?
I think what’s most important is that visiting our service center does not require an appointment. You can come in and get answers, usually within the same hour. Are there times when the wait is an hour? Sure. But think about that: you can walk in, take a ticket (like at the deli counter), and then talk to a live person, someone knowledgeable who will give you diagnostics right on the spot and provide you with options. We have a 30-year history of working with the Apple community, so we really know our stuff. Our community trusts us—that’s why we maintain an 80 percent repeat customer rate. People can come in and feel comfortable—this is not a high-pressure situation. To us, it’s not about selling a box and sending you out the door.
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