Echoing Apple, PalmOne has opened a new self-branded retail outlet at Philadelphia International Airport that will serve as the flagship of its stealthily expanding retail network.

The airport shop is the eleventh, and largest, outlet in a chain of kiosks and stores designed to introduce PalmOne's handhelds and smartphones to consumers who don't shop at tech retail stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City. PalmOne is treating the stores more as a pilot project than a full-blown retail channel strategy most are kiosks, and the company contracts for the staff.

"We're taking a slow, learn-as-we-go approach," said Marlene Somsak, a spokeswoman for PalmOne.

The company's goal is as much to advertise its wares as to actually sell them.

"About half the people who buy in these (PalmOne store) locations in the malls are women, which is higher than we've had at traditional retail," she said.

PalmOne has struggled in the past few years with a slumping market for PDAs (personal digital assistants) and increased competition from vendors including HP and Sony.

While PalmOne leads the handheld market it is seeing sales grow for its low-end, low-margin consumer products. It shed 12 per cent of its employees last year.

Somsak declined to say whether the retail stores are operating profitably, but she said PalmOne is pleased with the results they're seeing from the outlets.

Technology vendors have had mixed results running self-branded retail outlets: Apple's stores are profitable and popular, but Gateway recently closed its chain of shops.

PalmOne opened its first retail shop in October 2002, Somsak said. So far, the vendor has outlets in California, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, in addition to its new Pennsylvania store. Somsak declined to comment on future retail plans.