Friday, March 09, 2007

Apple Stores Succeed despite Predictions of Doom

Nice blog entry about an article about the surprise success of Apple stores.

From Signal vs. Noise:
The critics were way off…

“Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work,” BusinessWeek wrote with great certainty in 2001. “It’s desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.,” opined TheStreet.com. “I give [Apple] two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” predicted retail consultant David Goldstein…

Saks, whose flagship is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy (Charts) stores turn $930 – tops for electronics retailers – while Tiffany & Co. (Charts) takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany’s for breakfast. But at $4,032, Apple is eating everyone’s lunch.

The stores were prototyped like a product…

“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,” says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. “Ron and I had a store all designed,” says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a “hub” for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it. But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category – in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. “We were like, ‘Oh, God, we’re screwed!’” says Jobs.

But they weren’t screwed; they were in a mockup. “So we redesigned it,” he says. “And it cost us, I don’t know, six, nine months. But it was the right decision by a million miles.” When the first store finally opened, in Tysons Corner, Va., only a quarter of it was about product. The rest was arranged around interests: along the right wall, photos, videos, kids; on the left, problems. A third area – the Genius Bar in the back – was Johnson’s brainstorm.

Hotel concierges were the inspiration for the genius bar…

“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. This was unexpected. But of course: The concierge desk at a hotel isn’t selling anything; it’s there to help. “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.”...”See that? Look at their eyes. They’re learning. There’s an intense moment – like when you see a kid in school going ‘Aha!’”

The stores fight clutter in products and elements…

The most striking thing, though, is what you don’t see. No. 1: clutter. Jobs has focused Apple’s resources on fewer than 20 products, and those have steadily been shrinking in size. Backroom inventory, then, can shrink in physical volume even as sales volume grows. Also missing, at the newest stores, anyway, is a checkout counter. The system Apple developed, EasyPay, lets salespeople wander the floor with wireless credit-card readers and ask, “Would you like to pay for that?”

The interiors, too, have been distilled to a minimum of elements. “We’ve gotten it down so there’s only three materials we’re using: glass, stainless steel, and wood,” says Johnson. “We spent a year and a half perfecting that steel. Stainless steel can be cold if you don’t get the finish right.

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posted by Brian at 2:53 PM

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