Posts Tagged: apple store

Jun 16

Heroes of simplicity: Ron Johnson

My new book, Think Simple, will be published on June 7th. While my previous book focused on the power of simplicity as practiced by Steve Jobs and Apple, the new one goes further. I sought out more than 40 practitioners of simplicity in a range of companies around the world. Here’s one of them…

ronjohnsonIf you follow Apple, you probably know the Ron Johnson story. He’s the guy Steve Jobs brought in when he decided that Apple needed a retail presence.

Steve was impressed with Ron’s resume. After all, Ron was the guy who transformed Target from a fledgling department store to something more contemporary. He turned it into a cooler place to shop.

So Ron put together a team and worked with Steve to develop the Apple Store concept, and he credits the success of the stores to the power of simplicity. I spent a morning with Ron talking about the days when the Apple Store was just a germ of an idea.

He explained that a clear mission is an essential element of simplicity, and so the first order of business was creating a mission for the Apple Stores. It was wonderfully stark: “Enhance lives.”

That’s what Apple products were about, and the Apple Stores would be the place where customers come face-to-face with the Apple brand.

When a company has a simple mission, decisions come easy. Continue reading →

Aug 11

Apple’s invisible advantage

Back in June, Apple covered up its landmark Fifth Avenue Cube in NY to begin a $6.6 million renovation project. The word was that they would be re-outfitting the glass cube itself — reducing it from 90 panes to a mere 15. Bigger pieces, fewer seams.

Now they’ve released an artist’s conception, above.

Looks pretty cool. But I’ve already noticed some snide comments to the effect of “$6 million? For that?” … “Apple has way too much money to play around with” … and “Hell, they just built the place less than five years ago.”

Those who think this way really don’t get Apple. They don’t get why a company that makes cool little devices just became more valuable than one that supplies the world with the energy essential to life.

For everything you see in Apple, there are a hundred things you don’t see — all of which add up to the feel of quality and caring you don’t get from other companies. It’s a subconscious effect that Apple pursues quite consciously.

I had the pleasure of working on the “Making Of” video for the Cube, which appeared on when the store was first opened. That video called out the extraordinary effort that went into procuring the quality components necessary to create this store: the stone flooring from Sicily, the stainless steel surfaces from Tokyo, and the glass staircase and cube structure from Germany.

Apple doesn’t expect a single visitor to the Fifth Avenue Cube to think much about the floor they’re walking on. What they’re trying to do is create an overall feeling — that this is a place where people care about design and quality.

It’s the same principle Apple uses when they design product packaging. For items like iPhones and iMacs, they create an “unboxing experience” you will appreciate only once, lavishing attention on parts few people will ever notice. But overall, the experience contributes to the feeling of quality you get before you even touch the product.

Granted, some people think this is overkill. Or, even worse, it’s one more reason to hate Apple. This is how the Great Satan hoodwinks people into buying their overpriced technology.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t give a hoot about people who don’t recognize or care about quality. That’s not their audience.

As long as they continue to care about the invisible things, the crowds in those Apple Stores will be anything but invisible.

Jun 11

Apple loses a good one

Ron Johnson is one talented man.

After turning Target into what it is today, he was largely responsible for taking Apple from zero retail stores to a phenomenally successful global chain of over 300 today. That’s one hell of a resumé.

Honestly, I was shocked to hear that Ron was leaving Apple to become CEO of J.C. Penney. That’s because I couldn’t imagine anyone in his line of work having a better gig. He makes boatloads of money, which will become tanker-ships of money as his stock and annual vesting continue to pile up, and he runs what is widely considered  the gold standard of retail, selling the world’s coolest products.

That’ll teach me to impose my values on someone else’s life.

But now that I’ve read more about Ron’s decision, I do get it. It’s been an exhilarating ride, but he’s eager to try his hand at being Number One. As many will testify, it’s not easy working under Steve, and one has to follow his own dream.

It was pretty cool that J.C. Penney’s stock jumped up over 10% on the news of Ron’s hiring. And why not. For a retailer sorely in need of an excitement infusion, Ron represents the ultimate upgrade.

The analysts’ reactions seem to be 100% positive on Ron and J.C. Penney, as they should be. The quotes from all parties involved are super-positive, as they should be.

Of course, nobody can predict how these things will really play out. The only thing we do know is that it’s pretty darn tough to instill new values in an old organization. It takes  vision, talent, energy and rare leadership skills.

One of J.C. Penney’s board members referred to Ron today as “the Steve Jobs of retail.” Great sentiment, but (a) Steve Jobs is actually the Steve Jobs of retail, and (b) Mickey Drexler was already nicknamed the Steve Jobs of retail a while back. (We may just have to let them fight it out.) We know that the Apple Stores would never be what they are without Ron, but we also know that the Apple Stores reflect Steve’s minimalist tastes and assorted obsessions.

Being a brilliant retail thinker doesn’t necessarily make one a great CEO. Entirely different skill sets. But I had the pleasure of engaging with Ron for a brief period, and from my experience I think he has a good shot at winning the hearts and minds of the J.C. Penney family.

What happens to the Apple Stores without Ron? Fortunately, there’s a huge difference between inventing an idea from scratch and taking over an existing organization. The Apple Stores are now a well-oiled machine, and the lines for this job opening may be as long as the lines for iPad 2. Hopefully they’ll find someone who’s a good match for the Apple culture.

So happy trails, Ron, and a big thanks for making retail history at Apple. You deserve this opportunity. I don’t think I’ll be shopping at J.C. Penney anytime soon, but I promise to keep an open mind.

Jan 10

A tale of two Apples

That Apple feeling ... let's just say it varies by country

Oh, the Apple retail experience. Gorgeous architecture. Cool technology. The fresh scent of Clorox wafting from the clothes line above…

The following story may disturb you. Ubiquitous as Apple Stores have become, some people in this world are forced to get their Apple retail fix in slightly less elegant establishments. Like the one pictured above, located in Portugal’s Algarve — covertly photographed by a well-paid Observatory spy. This “authorized Apple dealer” is located in a converted garage beneath a family residence. (A family with fine taste in intimate apparel.)

Despite a decent-sized Apple-loving element across its more than 92,000 square kilometers, Portugal has no retail Apple Stores. Zippo. They do have an online Apple Store. But if you want to get your hands on the goods or need support, you have no choice but to pick from a network of dealers — some of them ma-and-pa shops, each with its own special “character.” And most of which even Microsoft wouldn’t want to copy.

I know. It’s inhuman to subject Apple customers to such cruel conditions. But hey, it’s a big planet. We can’t expect Apple to put an official store everywhere — though they appear to be trying. On average, one new Apple Store opens every three weeks, with the current total just shy of 300. Not bad for an operation some thought would flop as quickly as Gateway’s.

Unfortunately, it looks like our friends in Portugal must continue to live without a real Apple Store for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, they might rejoice in the fact that their stores have a few things even Apple’s Fifth Avenue Store can’t match: like free parking for one and a solar-powered clothes dryer.

A special thanks to my spy in Portugal for this story — who I will now reward with a public unmasking. She’s my sister. I used to avoid talking about her because she was a lifelong PC person. Now she’s not only crossed over to the Mac side, she’s dreaming up spy missions like this to bolster her credentials. Thanks, Zita.

Nov 09

Running out of things to steal

At some point Microsoft had to come to grips with reality: there’s just nothing left to copy from the retail tech leader. Time to get creative. Think outside the Apple Store. Looks like they got this one a few doors down, at Johnny Rockets.

Oct 09

Molecular modeling by Microsoft

You’ve probably heard that Microsoft is opening its own stores, and that they’re taking a few cues from the Apple Stores. Addendum: they’re taking a few cues, the tables and stools, the shirts, the Genius Bars, the high fives, basically everything they can copy without running up against federal cloning laws.

This video, taken at the opening of the Microsoft Store in Scottsdale, is Exhibit A. If it weren’t for the bargain-hunter-ish PCs on the tables, you’d swear you were in Appleville. And if you’ve ever seen an Apple Store opening, you’ll be aghast over the degree to which they have imitated even the Apple hoopla. This isn’t copying. It’s identity theft.

I honestly don’t know how the people responsible can look at themselves in the mirror each morning. Surely there are other ways to get into retail without copying every detail from the people you’re constantly accused of copying in the first place.

Though there is some logic in replicating a proven winner, I’ll be extremely surprised if this works. The Apple Stores have broken retail records because millions of Mac-loving and Apple-curious people literally had no place to go for knowledgeable advice, hands-on experience and service. The stores broke records because, like most of Apple’s efforts, they were inventive. Microsoft Stores are doomed for two simple reasons:

1. PC people have a zillion other places to go to touch the latest models and get technical support: electronics chains, office supply chains, warehouse chains and countless ma-and-pa shops.

2. PC customers are price-driven. Even if they visit a Microsoft Store to try things out, they’ll buy where it’s cheapest — on the Internet or at a competing retailer. Remember, Microsoft itself has been so proudly advertising the mindset of the “laptop hunters.”

It’s just hard to imagine that too many people will feel particularly motivated to visit a Microsoft Store — unless, of course, it’s to join in the merriment on opening day.