Microsoft Plans to Use Apple Exec for Retail Stores

Microsoft's plan to open several retail stores in the second half of 2009 now includes the hiring of George Blankenship, a former Apple executive who helped launch the company's retail arm in 2001. Microsoft plans to aggressively promote the retail experience, even opening stores close to pre-existing Apple stores, as it seeks to compete with Steve Jobs more aggressively.

Microsoft has hired George Blankenship, a former Gap executive who helped launch Apple's retail arm back in 2001, to help with Microsoft's own store launchings in the fall of 2009.

Microsoft did not announce Blankenship's exact role, but it could mirror his job function for Apple, which was to help select the best locations for retail stores. When Microsoft begins rolling out its own retail stores, it plans to open at least some of them in close geographical proximity to Apple stores. While the exact details of the Microsoft stores have been kept under wraps, they may resemble the Retail Experience Center that opened in Redmond, Wash., in 2008, which offered up products such as the Zune in a standard box-store environment.

Wonder what a Microsoft store could look like? Click here for more information.

The move further demonstrates that Microsoft is willing to be aggressive in the marketplace, re-emphasizing a theme from the Worldwide Partner Conference that ran in New Orleans from July 13-16.

During that conference, Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner described Redmond as "on the offensive" against Apple.

"We're doing stuff and we're in the game and continuing to take some of these hard market-share opportunities head on and compete because it's a test of will," he said.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer further emphasized during the conference that Microsoft's ad campaign, which highlighted the relative inexpensiveness of PCs versus Macs, as playing on the public's growing need for cost-effective computing in the midst of a global recession.

"All of our research shows that our 'I'm a PC' ads - that talk dramatically about the price of Macintoshes - work quite effectively," Ballmer said during a Q&A session following his July 14 keynote speech. "We've gained market share quite effectively against Apple over the past six to nine months."

In the first quarter of 2009, Apple's share of the U.S. PC market declined to 7.4 percent, down from 9 percent in the third quarter of 2008. Microsoft evidently hopes that the upcoming release of its new operating system, Windows 7, on Oct. 22 will further help it solidify market share, a goal in which the retail stores will also most likely play a part.

Apple, however, has been producing strong quarterly numbers. Since April, the company's stock has risen 20 percent, and analyst firm the NPD Group predicts that the company sold 2.6 million Macs during the current quarter. Apple has also cut its prices slightly in order to better compete in a cost-conscious marketplace.