Ron Johnson: “What I Learned Building the Apple Store”

Earlier this year, Ron Johnson, the man behind the operations of Apple’s high successful retail concept, left and took a position with JC Penney. In a guest blog post entry at The Harvard Business Review, Johnson details what he learned building the Apple Store:

People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they’re not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you’re happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry. Compare that with other retailers where the emphasis is on cross-selling and upselling and, basically, encouraging customers to buy more, even if they don’t want or need it. That doesn’t enrich their lives, and it doesn’t deepen the retailer’s relationship with them. It just makes their wallets lighter.

Ron Johnson previously had worked for Target before Steve Jobs worked with him in the year 2000, as outline in the Steve Jobs biography. An idea from Millard Drexler, the CEO of the Gap, told Steve to secretly build a prototype store to test it out. So Jobs and Johnson rented a warehouse in Cupertino. Everyday for six months, they met in the morning to perfect the idea for the store.

When it was nearly completed, after tedious thought and design put out by Jobs, it was Johnson who told Steve the idea was all wrong after he had an epiphany one night. Steve was reluctant to listen, but in the end agreed and followed Johnson’s advice. The rest, is history.