The Apple store at International Plaza in Tampa hums with energy and activity.
Employees with hand-held devices register customers and then quickly escort them to the sleek, white "Genius Bar." Patrons are presented with spindly white stools where they wait five to 20 minutes until their allotted genius is available.
Meanwhile, at a 28-year-old office building at 10823 Seminole Blvd., a bunch of high school kids are tutoring folks on iPads, iPods, smartphones and laptops made by any manufacturer. Three or four of them, depending on the afternoon, wear matching GadgitKids T-shirts and sit in cubicles. There's bottled water and a plate of cookies for clients and tutors. Most desks include a gallon of Legos in case the client has brought along a child who needs a distraction.
The high schoolers are taking on the geniuses.
The newly formed GadgitKids is the brainchild of Cecilia Tucker, a marriage and family therapist who thinks teenagers can offer what they instinctively know to their parents' and grandparents' generations.
"It's been a goal of mine to bridge the gap between teens and adults, not just older adults," she said. "Our teenagers have something to offer adults if adults can start respecting the knowledge of teenagers."
As 16-year-old Josh Korzinek assigned Connie Smith Stafford her homework of setting up "boxes" for related applications on her iPad, she raved about GadgitKids.
"If you've been to the Apple store it's like a world of difference. There are so many people there," said the 50-something customer. "Here I could focus and Josh could focus. This is 20 minutes away instead of 45 minutes."
Stafford paid $100 to have a year of tutoring sessions at the Apple store when she bought her iPad. But she says she's going to swallow that and happily pay $40 an hour to come to GadgitKids.
Gadgit is spelled with "it" at the end as a play on IT, which stands for information technology.
Tucker, who has a son in college and a daughter in law school, found herself without a technical guide last year when she bought a new Motorola Droid X.
"I said, if I just had a teenager I would be able to do this. I went to bed and I awakened with the idea of, if I need a teenager, who else does?" said the 59-year-old.
She spent months researching the demand and supply of technical assistance and decided to start GadgitKids. It has 15 employees; four are 18 or older. They make $10 an hour. There arestrict guidelines for when and where they meet with clients. Only those 18 or older work outside the Seminole office, and then it's at a public place with Wi-Fi. They have to call the office and check in when they leave an appointment so someone knows all went well and they are safely on their way home.
She is marketing GadgitKids to businesses as well as individuals. After a presentation at Suncoast Jeep, several employees got tutoring to learn how to store and transmit data and photos from their phone instead of computer. Two GadgitKids sales people start this month.
Allen Conner, owner of Robert's Mobile Home and RV Resort, has signed on to have GadgitKids offer help to the park's residents monthly. He's paying $120 a month for two GadgitKids teachers because he thinks it's a useful service to offer guests.
"We had a lady who wanted to learn how to take photos and how to send them to her children up North. GadgitKids showed her how to take photos and send a whole file," Conner said. "When you can have someone come right to where people live and mingle it makes a difference. … Today you can't just provide someone a place to stay. If you want people to come into your place and stay long term, you need to give back by providing services like this."
GadgitKids tutors are trained to keep their hands off the phones and computers as much as possible. They must empower clients to learn how to do it for themselves.
"We're teachers, not fixers. We are not the Geek Squad," said Tucker, who plans to license GadgitKids to other operators around the country. She didn't name a dollar amount but said she invested a significant part of her retirement savings into starting the business. She has not taken outside investors' money. Albert Burruezo, a 56-year-old Realtor from Tampa, spent a session with 17-year-old Katie Atkisson at the GadgitKids office and left with a newfound appreciation for his smartphone.
"I learned if I turn the phone sideways I can use a keyboard to text (instead of the numeric keypad) and that's much easier," he said. "I learned how to make things bigger on the screen. I can check the weather. There's a lot of this stuff I didn't know was here."
At the cubicle next door, 17-year-old Zack Miller was teaching 65-year-old Dot Abboud how to get rid of unnecessary programs that were slowing down her Hewlett-Packard laptop. He mentioned that HP computers have something called LightScribe that allows them to burn labels or pictures on a CD or DVD.
"You can burn a DVD, then flip the disc over and burn an image on it," he said.
"You're kidding me. I didn't know that," Abboud said. "I do burn music off of here a lot."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.