Today is the tenth anniversary of the opening of the first two Apple Stores in California and Virginia, one of them at Tyson’s Corner where I’m a frequent browser. It’s difficult to overestimate the impact, both on computer retailing and on Apple’s fortunes, that the stores have made. In 2001 it was a novel idea that a manufacturer should have its own direct retail stores and it is easy to understand the suspicions of the existing authorised retail network.
No other computer manufacturer has managed to make company-owned stores work, least of all Microsoft who launched their ill-fated outlets little more than a year ago. But the Apple Stores have worked big time and I believe they are largely responsible for the tremendous growth of the company, particularly over the past five years. It’s difficult to enter an Apple Store and not feel the energy and the enthusiasm of the Mac world. Countless browsers in cities and shopping malls throughout the world must have been sucked in and spewed out again with a Mac, an iPod or an iPad. The stores were a touch of genius and are rightly the envy of the industry.
They are not just stores, of course. They are computing schools, advice points, problem-solving bars, even social gatherings. Anyone who is new to computing, or even new to Apple, gets a warm welcome and is soon sitting in on a free introductory course in OS X or iOS. In traditional computer stores you pays your money and you are soon out on the street without a lifeline. Apple changed all that.
I first came across an Apple store exactly six years ago when a friend told me about his new £299 Mac Mini. At that price I thought I’d try out the Mac and entered London’s Regent Street store for the first time. Back home I connected the Mini to an existing keyboard and monitor and within hours I was hooked on OS X, comparing it very favourably with my experience of Windows. Three days later I was back at Regent Street for a PowerBook G4 and I haven’t looked back since. Yet without the Apple store and the infectious atmosphere, I don’t think I would have taken the initial plunge.
Tomorrow morning, we’re told, we can look forward to revamped Apple stores throughout the world. Staff are called in early and the blinds will be down while a new environment is constructed, including the use of iPads to display information instead of the static product signage. I’m going to pay an anniversary visit to the new Covent Garden store to see what’s up.