Rumor has it Google
Guinness and Google
The rumor has its origins in Dublin, Ireland. Of late, the city has become a tech center and European headquarters for many big American Internet companies, including Google, LinkedIn, Zynga, and Facebook.
Google is currently in the process of renovating an entire city block for its use in the "docklands" section of the city, until recently a down-on-its-luck area, now cheerily referred to as "Silicon Docks." Financial Times is reporting that in the official planning application there's an option for storefront retail space.
Advice is free, but the pen's gonna cost you
Right now, Google is refuting any notion the company will open an Apple-style retail location in Dublin. “We already have an online store selling things like Google T-shirts and pens," a company spokesperson told Financial Times. "We have the option of a small space doing the same in our Dublin office, but we've not made any decisions. It's simply a planning application.”
It's certainly possible that's all the company is thinking about. But consider that Google has already tried its hand at bricks-and-mortar retailing in Europe with what it calls "pop-up shops," which are essentially Google stands in big consumer-electronics stores where Chrome OS advice is freely dispensed and product demos given.
So no matter what the company is saying now, a traditional storefront seems like a logical move to me. Here's what it might look like.
Get real, Google
Google just purchased Motorola Mobility
Apple has had obvious success with the integrated hardware/software model, and something similar could easily be in the works for Google. If so, having your own chic retail space in one of the most up-and-coming parts of Dublin in which to showcase it is a nice option.
At the very least, there are Chromebooks to shill and apps and operating systems to demo. A series of flagship shops like this (theoretical) one in Dublin -- one in each of the big cities in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. -- wouldn't put Google out too much financially. And assuming the stores were done stylishly, the brand could benefit; Google would quite literally come out of "the cloud" and become more real to consumers, as happened with Apple when it opened its retail stores.
But don't get too real
There are benefits to staying virtual, though. Once you're out of the cloud and on the ground, many new challenges present themselves. You have to rent or buy space, and then keep it up. You also have to deal with a whole other type of employee, one making minimum wage or just a bit beyond and not tied into the day-to-day, rah-rah corporate life of someplace like the Googleplex.
And store expansion has to be carefully managed as well. Many a retail operation has opened stores too quickly and then had to pull back, which is not only expensive, but also potentially damaging to the brand's image. Starbucks
An optimum balance
For the time being, until the company has more physical items to sell, a limited set of flagship stores would be the optimum balance between Google touching down on Earth and staying comfortably above the storefront-retail fray. We'll have to wait to see exactly what the Internet giant does with its Dublin storefront option, but a limited, thoughtfully executed foray would be a next logical step in the company's evolution and would bode well for investors.
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Fool contributor John Grgurich keeps his head as firmly ensconced in the clouds as adult life allows him to, and owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column. Follow him on Twitter @TMFGrgurich.
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