4 Lessons From Apple’s Retail Success

THE BIG IDEA: Apple had no business getting into the retail space, but their courage paid off and there are lessons we can all learn from their success.


It’s hard to believe that just 14 years ago, Steve Jobs and his team at Apple entered a new market they knew nothing about.

They choose to open retail stores—one of the most challenging and highly competitive business environments.

I (BJ) can still remember the first time I heard Apple’s former senior vice president of retail operations, Ron Johnson, speak to the Retail Advertising Conference.

He unveiled a new strategy that would change the retail world forever.

I loved every idea he presented; it all seemed “so cool.” I found their emphasis on creating a humanistic experience powerful. I believed they had a winning model for a disruptive future.

But not everyone was as excited. “Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work,” proclaimed a headline in BusinessWeek in May 2001.

Apple’s stores generated sales of $5,009 per square foot in the 12 months leading up to May 2015. This is more than any other retailer in the United States, including Tiffany & Co.

There are countless lessons we can learn from Apple’s retail evolution, but here are a few of our favorites that every business leader can put to use today.

Becoming a Steward of Your Brand

In the 1990s, Apple was selling its products through Sears and CompUSA. Sales weren’t spectacular. Apple’s products were buried among others in a way that Steve Jobs and other executives felt compromised the brand.

When Apple designed its own stores, it left plenty of space for people to interact with their technology.

How can you elevate the perception of your brand?

Capturing a Big Vision for Your Brand’s Future

Apple envisioned its stores as much more than, well, stores.

“I’m not even sure ‘store’ is the right word anymore,” said Tim Cook, who took over Apple after Jobs. “They’ve taken on a role much broader than that. They are the face of Apple for almost all of our customers.”

Where can you dream a bigger dream for your brand?

Playing to the Highest Standard

Jobs was famously detail-oriented. At one point, he even insisted that the metal bolts that held together glass panels in a store be replaced.

Critics proclaimed that Apple’s focus on only a few products and a “perfectionist attention to aesthetics” would limit the company’s appeal.

What details does your industry find unimportant that you feel passionate about?

Valuing Your Best Customers

A large part of the Apple store was dedicated to letting people try out and learn about their products, as well as ask questions at the Genius Bar.  

Their retail space is welcoming and makes you feel part of a techno family.  The creative class that surrounds the brand was ready to embrace and indoctrinate others into the cult of Mac.

Are your strategies in alignment with your best customers—your Brand Lovers?

How can you apply the lessons of Apple’s retail experience to your enterprise? One small decision, executed well by your team, can accelerate the growth of your business.

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