Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on hand this morning to give employees of
Apple’s flagship retail store on University Ave. in Palo Alto, Calif. a pep talk before its opening. Jobs also officially welcomed the throngs of Mac fans waiting outside as the doors to the new store opened. The new Apple Store is just minutes from Apple’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino.
You would think that if you showed up at 4:00 pm the day before an Apple retail store’s grand opening, you’d have a pretty good chance of being the first person in line, right? Well, Kevin Johnson may have thought so when he arrived, but he was second. Sachin Agarwal arrived at 1:30 pm Friday afternoon for an opening on Saturday at 10:00 am — 20 1/2 hours before the store opened.
“This is a great day for Apple and I want to support them,” Agarwal told MacCentral Friday night. Agarwal, a student at nearby Stanford University, just purchased a Cube in the summer and has no plans for a big purchase at the store, but did say he may be picking up a few peripherals.
Kevin Johnson, a graphic artist and independent film producer, said he might purchase a Cinema Display to go with his G4 733MHz desktop computer. Johnson also said he didn’t plan on staying when he first showed up yesterday afternoon. “I came down to see if they needed any help getting ready for the opening,” Johnson told MacCentral. “I would have washed the windows or scrubbed the floor — whatever I could do to help. They had everything done, so I decided to buy a chair across the street and stay the night.”
As you might expect, the Palo Alto Apple store looks very similar to the other stores that have already opened. There have been some very subtle changes in pictures hanging above some of the displays and in the islands holding the MP3 players, digital camcorders and digital cameras.
Every Apple product is on display in the first 25 percent of the store, with the next 50 percent dedicated to Apple’s “Digital Hub” concept. The final 25 percent is the Theatre and Genius Bar. Having Apple products front and center fits into the company’s plans for the stores — to attract the 95 percent of consumers not currently using the Mac.
“We are here to expand Apple’s marketshare,” Ron Johnson told MacCentral. Johnson is Apple’s senior vice president of retail. “The store is oriented to those 95 percent that don’t use Macs.”
That’s not to say the stores won’t be a haven for current Mac users, but Apple seems to be doing what the hardcore Mac user has asked them to do for years — stop preaching to the converted. The stores put the products, where passersby can easily see them from the window — drawing their attention to the sleek designs.
The store was drawing a crowd the entire time I was there on Friday night. People passing by stopped to look in the window and admire the display of iBooks and G4s. A couple that I spoke with said they would be back, but they wouldn’t be standing in line all night long. Understandably, opening day seems to be for the die-hard Mac fans to show support for what the company is doing. By the time the store’s doors opened on Saturday morning, several hundred Mac users had gathered in line to take a look.
The stores will provide a place for Mac users to bring their friends and show them the latest technologies and cool products. And since it’s a very hands on type of store, they can also demo applications like iDVD, iTunes, Mac OS X 10.1 and iMovie. Until now, this has been lacking in a Mac user’s arsenal — we could explain why the Mac was better, but we didn’t have a place to show-off the latest and greatest from Apple. Pointing out a product in a resellers catalog just doesn’t have the same affect as standing in front of a 22-inch Cinema Display, burning a DVD on a G4 and then playing it back on a nearby home DVD player and TV set provided in the store.
Apple is also continuing to work with local resellers, making sure they understand the company’s strategy. “We’re a concierge to the Mac community,” Ron Johnson said. “We will work with resellers to send them customers for service or whatever they need.”
Johnson also believes the Apple store employees and the location of the stores have a big part to play in growing the company’s marketshare. Of the 300 people hired thus far to work in the stores, only two have left, Johnson said.
“If we put great stores in a place where people are going and staff them with well trained people, we’re confident we can grow marketshare,” Johnson said. “The quality of the real estate will drive where we will open a store — Apple doesn’t need to open stores before they are ready.”
Johnson had 15 years of retail experience with department store chain Target before coming to Apple, and he and his team are confident in what they are doing with the stores. They are taking the slow steady approach to each opening and are very pleased with the performance of the retail operation so far.
The stores are staffed by Mac people that are paid to be helpful and provide a positive experience for the consumer — they’re not on commission for how much product they sell that day. This, coupled with the great products in the store, should get Apple’s message out to the other 95 percent and provide a Mecca for the hardcore Mac user in all of us.