Apple has been working on its retail store concept for two years. Taking the attitude that “retailing is really hard,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the company went after the best folks to spearhead the new endeavor. As a result, people who have worked for the Gap, Target, Sony, and other major firms are now onboard the Apple ship.
“We’ve seen a lot of smart people try their hand at retail and get their head handed to them,” Jobs said. “We don’t’ want to be one of them so we’ve surrounded ourselves with experienced people.”
The first such experience person was Mickey Drexler, the CEO of Gap, whom Jobs convinced to join Apple’s Board of Directors two years ago. He’s been “very helpful” in helping plan the company’s retail strategy, Jobs said.
Ron Johnson, formerly the vice president of merchandising at Target, is now at Apple as senior vice president of retailing. Also on the Apple team are George Blankenship, vice president of real estate; Kathy Calcidice, vice president of retail operations; and Allen Moyer, vice president of development. All have experience at such firms as Sony, the Gap, and Disney. And all have built teams to accomplish their mission at Apple, Jobs said.
But even a good management team can’t make retail store work without good people in the stores. Getting good people and keeping them in such stores — especially in technology areas where knowledge is crucial — is perhaps the hardest thing in retail today, Johnson said.
“Our vision for hiring people for Apple stores is to get people who have Apple and the Mac in their bones,” he said. “We want people who have a sincere service orientation. We want them to be ‘people people’ first, more so than ‘tech people.’ And we want them to be people with interesting hobbies, such as photography or music buffs. The least experienced person in our first two stores has been using Macs since before the iMac came out.”
Johnson said Apple also wanted to have teachers and educators working in the store, at least on a part-time basis. The retail stores will also play a key role in Apple’s renewed focus on education. The company is looking at ways to utilize the stores and their giant presentation screens for school use.
Employees at the retail store will also apparently be paid more than at most retail jobs. Other perks are also in the works. The goal is to keep turnover at the store to 20 percent, compared to the average retail turnover range of 40-80 percent, Johnson said.
“We want to select great people, train them well (for instance, we’ll offer real time Web feeds for daily training), hire great managers, provide a great culture, and give our retail store employees a chance to be a part of Apple,” he said. “We want them to know that they’re not just not just joining Apple retail, but they’re part of a $9 billion global company.”
And Apple retail store customers won’t have to worry about being pressured to buy products, he said. Employees aren’t paid commissions for sales.
“You have two choices in a retail store: a service culture or a retail culture,” Johnson said. “We’ve chosen service so customers will be in charge of their store experience.”