Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson On Apple’s Retail Success [Quotes]


Ron Johnson when he was with Apple
Ron Johnson and Steve Jobs at the grand opening of Apple's 5th Ave. store.
Photo: Richard Agullar

When Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s first retail stores in 2001, pundits said they were a costly mistake and he’d be closing them within a year. A decade later, Apple has reinvented retailing with a chain of 300 shops that make more money per square foot than Tiffany & Co.

Here are some of the best quotes from Jobs and the chief architect of the stores, Ron Johnson, about their retail philosophy, strategy, and execution.

This is a guest post by Gary Allen of IFOAppleStore, who has followed Apple’s retail experiment very closely for more than a decade. His site is a fantastic resource for everything Apple retail. It was originally published here.

“Mr. Jobs said that Apple wants, ‘the best buying experience’ for its products, and that most of the resellers weren’t investing enough in their stories (sic) or making other selling improvements.” — Sr. V-P Ron Johnson to Wall Street Journal, explaining the origin of the retail initiative at the 2004 opening of mini-stores

“As I look at Apple, I think of Steve’s first three words when he hired me, and his first three words when he talked to analysts and press about retail. He said, ‘Retailing is hard.’ And we’re going to operate with a little bit of fear, because retailing is a hard business.” — Johnson, 2006 ThinkEquity financial analysts’ conference

“The world was really different, but in May of 2001 we opened our first store. Here, in an industry that was dominated by Dell, by falling prices, by low margins and we were a company losing money, where the only other retail strategy was going out of business, we said, ‘Even though we have only 3 percent of the market, we’re going to make this work.’ And here are the three words that everybody said… Are you crazy?” — Johnson, 2006

“I sat in a room with Steve, and he put on the table Apple’s product line. And we had four products, two portables and two desktop computers. The iPod wasn’t created yet. And that was a challenge (with only four products). But it ended up being the ultimate opportunity, because we said, because we don’t have enough products to fill a store that size, let’s fill it with the ownership experience. So we quickly moved from a buying experience to an ownership experience–Genius Bars, theaters, and face-to-face help and friendly people. But we had a liberty that most retailers don’t have that are overstuffed with products. You know, you don’t have the space to innovate.” — Johnson at 2005 retail conference

“I imagined it as a store for everyone, a place that would be welcoming to all ages and where people could feel they truly belonged.” — Johnson, 2006

“We’re going to break the norm. We’re going to be a store for everyone. PC owners, Mac owners. Small business, consumers. Eighty year-olds trying to connect with their grandkids. Grandkids trying to get on a computer for the first time. Forget the conventional wisdom of retail that it’s all about specializing.” — Johnson, 2006

“It was very simple. The Mac faithful will drive to a destination, right? They’ll drive somewhere special just to do that. But people who own Windows—we want to convert them to Mac. They will not drive somewhere special. They don’t think they want a Mac. They will not take the risk of a 20-minute drive in case they don’t like it. But if we put our store in a mall or on a street that they’re walking by, and we reduce that risk from a 20-minute drive to 20 footsteps, then they’re more likely to go in because there’s really no risk. So we decided to put our stores in high-traffic locations. And it works.” — Steve Jobs to Fortune magazine in March 2008

“We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants. The only consultants I’ve ever hired in my 10 years is one firm to analyze Gateway’s retail strategy so I would not make some of the same mistakes they made [when launching Apple’s retail stores]. But we never hire consultants, per se. We just want to make great products.” — Steve Jobs, March 2008

“We didn’t think about their experience in the store. We said, let’s design this store around their life experience. We said there’s a bigger idea. Let’s design it around the customer’s life, not the moment when they’re in the store. We said, we want our stores to create an ownership experience for the customer. That’s what we try to create. We like to think that’s where it begins.” — Johnson, 2004

“But the most important thing we set in our design criteria is we wanted to create very distinct experiences for customers, in what they perceive as a public place. More like a great library, which has natural light, and it feels like a gift to the community. In a perfect world, that’s what we want our stores to be. And we don’t want the store to be about the product, but about a series of experiences that make it more than a store.” — Johnson, 2004

“The interesting number, though, to me, is not the financial results, but it’s the people who come to our stores. Because ultimately a store is about customers. And just as Peter Lynch (Fidelity Investments) used to say, you know, ‘Where the people are, that’s where the action will be.’ That’s the nature of our stores.” — Johnson, 2006

“(Employees say…) My job is to make the store rich with experience for people. It’s not the boring, laborious, I’ve-got-to-move-merchandise and take care of customer problems. I’m suddenly enriching people’s lives. And that’s how we select, that’s how we motivate, that’s how we train our people.” — Johnson, 2004

“Does good design lead to increased sales-profit? The answer is clearly, yes.” — Johnson, 2004

“But I think the one thing that sets apart our stores and Apple, is fundamentally two types of people in the world, in my view. There are believers and there are skeptics. Apple is filled with believers. And believers tend to think of what can be, and they just go do it, and they don’t spend time asking why not. They go and make it happen.” — Johnson, 2004

“The reason Apple is really good, I think, and the reason their stores succeeded, is not just ’cause we know the big idea, but we have a real passion for the littlest detail. It’s legendary in our products. We have the same passion for detail in retail.” — Johnson, 2006

Also read the full reports on Ron Johnson’s Rhode Island School of Design talk, and the 2006 financial conference talk.


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