Fortune: ‘Why Apple is the best retailer in America’

Following Apple being named to Fortune’s list of most admired companies, the magazine has published an interesting article on the beginning of Apple’s retail store effort. “I started to get scared,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs about depending on large retailers to sell Macs before Apple’s first retail store was opened. “It was like, ‘We have to do something, or we’re going to be a victim of the plate tectonics. And we have to think different about this. We have to innovate here.’” Apple’s 174 stores, which each attract 13,800 visitors a week on average, now produce sales of $1 billion a quarter for the company. The average Apple Store generates sales of $4,032 per square foot a year—more than Saks, Best Buy, and Tiffany & Co.

Jobs told Fortune how he helped kick off the retail effort. “We looked at it and said, ‘You know, this is probably really hard, and really easy for us to get our head handed to us.’ So we did a few things. No. 1, I started asking who was the best retail executive at the time. Everybody said Mickey Drexler, who was running the Gap.” Jobs then went after Ron Johnson, then a Target executive, to run the retail store operations. “One of the best pieces of advice Mickey ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn’t work,” said Jobs. Interestingly, the first Apple Store prototype was scrapped, delaying the launch of the first store by 6-9 months.

Another interesting detail in the article is that the Apple Store Genius Bar was conceived after the majority of a focus group told Johnson that the best service experience they’d ever gotten was from a hotel concierge. “When we launched retail, I got this group together, people from a variety of walks of life,” says Johnson. “As an icebreaker, we said, ‘Tell us about the best service experience you’ve ever had.’” Of the 18 people, 16 said it was in a hotel. “We said, ‘Well, how do we create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel?’” The answer: “Let’s put a bar in our stores. But instead of dispensing alcohol, we dispense advice.”

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