The Apple Store: An Unsung Hero

Apple previewed its Upper West Side store in New York yesterday. Besides welcoming the media into the company’s latest example of retail minimalism taken to its logical extreme, Apple Senior VP Ron Johnson talked retail.

Glass and stone enclose 8,500 square feet of retail space on street level, topped with a glass ceiling 45 feet above, and with a glass spiral staircase leading to the floor below. According to Gothamist, which has some really nice photos, the street level enclosure could fit 11 of the glass cubes like the one in front of the 5th Avenue store.

“We opened our first store in Manhattan seven years ago, and the response has been incredible,” said Johnson, and not just at New York stores. A look at the numbers shows just how successful the Apple Stores have been.


Apple opened its first store in May 2001. At the time, it was a controversial decision, and not just because the store design looked like something out “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Rival PC retailer Gateway was cutting back on its stores, but Steve Jobs envisioned Apple Stores as a boon to both sales and marketing. One goal was to eventually put an Apple Store within driving distance of 85 percent of consumers in the U.S., a goal which must be nearing achievement. For 2009, Apple opened more international stores than domestic. The company now intends to open at least one Apple Store in one new country a year.

Further, according to Gizmodo, the company plans on opening “more like 50” stores in the current fiscal year, including more “significant” stores. The outlets, formerly known as “flagship stores,” will be built in multiple countries in Europe as well as Canada, and at least one in Shanghai, China. Also, in the future, stores will be larger in general, making room for more product tables, as well as a bigger Genius Bar. Anyone who has sought technical support at an Apple Store can see the need for that improvement. As for the number of stores being opened, 50 in 2010 would equal that of 2007, which is especially impressive considered the current difficult economic times.


However, Apple and the Apple Stores appear immune to those economic troubles. More than 170 million people visited Apple Stores this year, and for the quarter just ending that meant $1.87 billion in revenue. Average sales per store is now $26 million, coming in behind competitor’s like Best Buy, but besting Best Buy by a factor of five in terms of sales per square footage, $4,300 to $872. Apple beats even Tiffany’s on a retail space-based comparison.

Finally, there is the marketing factor. According to Apple, there are more than 100,000 applications on file for positions at Apple Stores. For the Upper West Side store alone, 10,000 applications were submitted, 2,500 applicants were interviewed and 200 were hired. While it’s something of a jibe to describe Apple as a cult, if you think of Apple Stores as metaphorical churches, or in the case of the Upper West Side, a cathedral, one role of Apple Store employees becomes clear:  making converts. Consider this: Half of those purchasing Macs at Apple Stores are new to the platform. That statistic that hasn’t changed since the first Apple Store opened more than eight years ago.

While the Upper West Store stands out architecturally, it is Apple Retail that has arguably done as much for the company as OS X, the iPod and the iPhone.

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