Rock Stars of Retail
Most days, they toil in anonymity. But on hot product launch days, store clerks become the shopper’s superstars — if only for a morning
BY JIMMY MAGAHERN
Published by: Phoenix Magazine, November 2007
Charles Keller arrives to work on his bicycle, wearing a black T-shirt, jeans and a wide grin that won’t disappear for the next 10 hours.
Most days, Keller’s workplace role is the same: He’s the older, less hip-looking clerk in the Phoenix Apple Store whom all the dads feel comfortable questioning about the latest iMac. He’s a friendly, down-to-earth guy in a sea of notoriously cooler-than-thou geeks.
But today, Keller coasts down the walkway at Biltmore Fashion Park between his store and Häagen-Dazs like a rock star, grinning and waving to the applause of an adoring crowd.
“All riiight!” he yells in his best Ted Nugent voice to the 150 people camped along the outer wall of the Apple Store, anxiously awaiting the release of the iPhone, the summer of ’07’s hottest tech toy. “Are ya ready?”
His wife comes by awhile later, towing the couple’s 4-year-old son, Chaz, decked out in iPhone placards to resemble a walking, talking version of the much-desired device. Again, applause. By the end of the day, Keller’s boisterous countdown to the store’s opening will be aired on so many local newscasts he’ll need a half-dozen TiVos to preserve his brief, shining moment in the sun.
“One of the people who works here went to the bother of putting all the news coverage on a DVD,” Keller says a month later, already nostalgic. “I was watching ’em last night. It was an amazing day.”
Such is the meteoric rise and fall of the retail superhero, that mild-mannered Clark Kent of the stockroom who suddenly emerges, on the launch day of a hot new toy, videogame or book, as the shoppers’ Superman.
“It’s crazy,” says Eileen, a store manager at the Paradise Valley Borders bookstore who oversaw the midnight July 21 launch of the final book in the Harry Potter series. Like many in retail, she’s meek about using her last name when speaking for a large company, but she confesses she’s never felt as popular as when she handed out wristbands to the Potter Heads waiting in line.
“At one time we had over a thousand people here. It was the most exciting day we’ve ever had,” she says.
Alas, the love is usually over as soon as the customers grab their gold and go home. Eileen reports the silence was deafening as she and her coworkers swept up at 2 a.m.
But Jacqueline Cerchero, manager of the new Play ’N Trade videogame store at Chandler Fashion Center, may have found a way to make the magic last. For the September 25 release of Halo 3, the most anticipated videogame of the year, Cerchero staged an all-night tournament to keep the shoppers around from midnight until at least breakfast.
“At Best Buy or Game Stop, you’ll just stand in line for who knows how long, get your copy and go home,” she says a week before the event. “At least here, we’ll keep that community feeling going all night.”
Not to mention the all-too-rare hero worship. “This is gonna be like Christmas for us,” Cerchero says, beaming. “It’s going to be a special day.”