March 9, 2012

Tech Retailer Juggles Business, Sports, Music

as published in Atlanta Business Chronicle

You can find Bob Wallis most days at the authorized Apple retail outlet he opened last fall in Johns Creek.

Unless he’s at the rink playing forward for one of his two men’s league hockey teams, or at a small club in metro Atlanta’s northern suburbs holding down the critical lead guitar spot in a local rock band.

Wallis, who will turn 50 next month, juggles all three in a daily time-management exercise that would exhaust most people.

“I definitely do not get enough rest,” he said. “But it’s a lot of fun.”

Wallis said he isn't called upon to apply directly what he learned as a civil engineering major at Georgia Tech at Macrobatix LLC, the Apple retailer and service provider he and his wife, Kelly, founded in 2005.

Indirectly, however, engineering led him to meet and fall in love with Apple Inc.'s Macintosh computer technology from the day Steve Jobs rolled out the first Mac in 1984.

Wallis was working for an engineering firm at the time, drafting by hand, when he started using an early Mac. Suddenly, he could create digital drawings by computer.

"That let me open up existing drawings and make changes. It saved hours," he said. "I just became a Macintosh fanatic. My love for the product just blossomed."

Several years later, Walls took those digital skills and moved into the printing industry. He founded TR Digital Production, which took off quickly but ran into tough times after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attach on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"When 9/11 hit, the printing industry took a tremendous drop," he said. "That's when I got out of the business and started doing Apple servicing."

For most of the past seven years, Macrobatix was strictly a servicing business. Essentially, Wallis made house calls on businesses, servicing and repairing their Apple products.

But when Apple officials asked Wallis to consider expanding into retailing, he jumped at the opportunity. He and Kelly opened a storefront last October in a shopping center at the busy intersection of Medlock Bridge and State Bridge roads, selling every Apple item on the market except the iPhone.

He siad it's turning out to be a smart move.

"We had a large customer base before, [but] our monthly revenues have tripled," he said. "It's been a real asset to our growing business."

Making Time

The nature of the retail business working day helps Wallis with time management. Since the store doesn't open until 10 a.m., he gets a little extra time to sleep in after his late-night hockey games, which typically don't start until 10 p.m.

"There aren't many hockey rinks in town, so the ice time is limited," he said. "Adults get stuck with late-night times."

Growing up in an Atlanta suburb, Wallis didn't inherit his love for hockey at birth. Instead, it came from his neighbors.

As a kid, Delta moved their hub from Boston to Atlanta. A lot of families were transplanted," he said. "The kids ended up in my neighborhood."

Wallis started playing street hockey with his Northern pals, then moved inside to the more traditional frozen version of the game at age 9.

"I was behind the curve," he said. "[But] I started young enough that I picked it up rather quickly."

Tom Hall, a CPA who lives in Dunwoody, was one of those Boston transplant kids who had the edge on Wallis at first.

"We played The Igloo on Roswell Road, one of the first ice rinks in the area," Hall said. "Bob was a quick learner. He quickly became one of the best players on the team. In a year or two, he was a top-line center."

Today, Wallis is a member of an over-35 team and also plays in an open league for players 18 and over. He said competition in the open league is particularly tough because of the younger competitors. Ironically, he said, the late-night starting times have worked to his advantage.

"My business takes up so much time, if it was earlier, I probably wouldn't be able to play," he said.

Wallis and Hall reconnected as adults through hockey. Years after playing together as youngsters, they were on an adult team.

"I'm not as active as him because I coach [youth hockey] now," Hall said. "[But] I played with him through last summer."

Work, Music Intertwine

Wallis has had to cut back on his other hobby to make time for making a living.

After starting a rock band during his senior year in high school, he joined a band called Emerald City while he was in college. The group gained local attention when Atlanta FM radio station 96 Rock put one of its songs on an album compilation of local recordings.

"We thought we were rock stars," he said.

The band spent five years playing small clubs across the Southeast, but Wallis said he dropped out when he started his printing business because of the drain on his time.

However, some of the band members got back together three years ago and formed a new group called Aunt Betty.

This time, the schedule is more limited. The band sticks to weekends only, playing small clubs in the northeastern end of the metro area.

We've developed a bit of a following," Wallis said.

written by Dave Williams
Staff Writer
Atlanta Business Chronicle