In Store for Wireless Customers: Apple-like Stores

Some pretty important people -- Mort Rosenthal, the founder of Corporate Software, at one point the world's largest PC software distributor, and Staples founder Tom Stemberg -- are plotting a new kind of a wireless venture. A wireless reseller that would revolutionize the wireless industry, to be exact.

Some pretty important people -- Mort Rosenthal, the founder of Corporate Software, at one point the world's largest PC software distributor, and Staples founder Tom Stemberg -- are plotting a new kind of a wireless venture. A wireless reseller, to be exact.

While that might seem like an old idea (I tend to think of wireless resellers as those dingy stores, selling pocket knives in addition to a handful of cell phones), this new venture, called imo (independent mobile) will be different. Rosenthal says his stores, due to open in the fall, will offer an Apple-store-like experience. And if that's the case, I think he is on to something.

If you are like me, you'd visited all U.S. wireless service providers' stores before picking your wireless plan. That meant visiting five different stores, then struggling to compare plans and pick one out of more than 300 currently available. Then, you had to decide on one of about 120 phones that come with the plans.

Clearly, Rosenthal says, signing up for wireless plans takes too much work.

That's where imo comes in. Unlike most other wireless resellers, the outfit will sell all of the wireless service providers' 300-plus plans. It will carry all of their phones. It will charge the same prices that the carriers will offer in their own stores, says Rosenthal. Basically, imo will be a one-stop wireless shop, which will help consumers to make their choices in less time.

The first two to four imo stores that will debut this fall in Ohio and Boston will feature "explorer areas," where customers will be able to test various services and gadgets. There might be a display, for example, where consumers will be able to play with mobile video services and cell phones with music capabilities.

After you are done with playing, you can walk up to a special bar-like counter, where you and a salesperson can search the store's database to pick a wireless plan that's right for you. Then, while your phone is being activated, another salesperson will walk you through all of your phone's functionalities.

This Apple-like sleek look, feel and service could, potentially, make this company, funded by venture capital firm Highland Capital Partners, a run-away success. Indeed, Rosenthal, imo's founder, and Stemberg, its board member, believe they will take the business nationwide within a couple of years.

If this venture takes off, it could, potentially, change the wireless industry dramatically. It could force carriers to compete more head to head. Ditto for cell phone manufacturers.

Most importantly, imo could, perhaps, improve the typically bad service one has to put up with at wireless service providers' own stores.

I guess we'll need to wait and see... The imo Web site is yet to be launched, and the stores are yet to be opened.

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