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BLOG: Why Apple really, really doesn't need a shopkeeper to lead its retail chain

Jonny Evans | July 8, 2013
What Apple needs to run its retail stores is a brand evangelist instead of a shopkeeper.

The search for a new retail chief continues at Apple [AAPL], but perhaps the company is simply looking in the wrong direction: it doesn't need a shopkeeper to run its retail stores, but a brand evangelist.

Evolution of retail
Think about the history of the company's retail store leadership:

Ron Johnson left Apple to lead JC Penney. Johnson's focus on building the brand's identity displeased the board, and he later lost his job. The shop sought a shopkeeper, but Johnson was attempting to transform the shop into a part of life for ordinary Americans. In time his attempt may have succeeded, but JC Penney needed someone who could sell more stuff.

Johnson's successor at Apple retail, ex-Dixons chief, John Browett, was a shopkeeper. His approach was all about shifting boxes and keeping staff costs lean.

He fundamentally misunderstood the significance of Apple retail — these stores aren't just stores; these stores are gathering points for the massed tribes of the Apple experience. In other words, the product that's really on sale in these places is the social network, the lifestyle, a taste of the entire brand experience. Browett couldn't deliver this. He didn't understand it.

Cultural divide
Most retailers have zero experience of working within a culture like that.

The conclusion is pretty clear: Apple doesn't need a shopkeeper, it needs a preacher; a retail store leader capable of rallying employees and galvanizing the teams to maintain and build an ever-more evocative sense of Apple's person-centered culture in-store.

"Apple's stores have always been about being more than a store. Our goal is to be part of people's lives, so we need to locate our stores to be part of their lives. We were thinking about a London store, and we wanted it to be on London's busiest street," said first retail store CEO,Ron Johnson in 2004.

These stores are not about selling products.

These stores are about giving those who visit them a sense of what it's like within the brand. When you visit one of these places you are walking into places that, by their nature, articulate some of the philosophies the company stands for. There are many elements to this philosophy, some that come to mind might include:

  • World-class design
  • Cutting-edge building materials
  • A sense of space
  • Customer empowerment — free Wi-Fi enhances store visitor's lives
  • Respect — lovely listed buildings redesigned with a sense of homage to their original form and importance within a local community

Are you experienced?
Apple's products become an element within the experience. Retail store staff are relatively well paid, but are encouraged to nurture customers, rather than force them into purchases.


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