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Ten Years of Apple’s Retail Stores, The Risky Gamble that Paid off Big with the Time

The year was 2001, and day was May 19, Steve Jobs took a entourage of journalists on a tour of the company’s first brick-and-mortar retail outlet located in the second level of Tysons Corner Center in Virginia. “Literally half the store is devoted to solutions. Because people don’t just want to buy personal computers any more. They want to know what they can do with them,” he later explained in promo footage shown to the gathering of devotees at the Macworld Expo 2001 conference.

In those days, the serif Apple Garamond font which dated back to the introduction of the first Macintosh still graced Apple’s corporate identity, although it would soon be on its way out in favour of today’s distinctive Myriad font. Mac OS X “Cheetah” made its rocky debut in March of that year, although most customers refused to jump off the classic Macintosh OS on their machines, choosing to stick with Mac OS 9 until a few years later with “Jaguar” and “Panther.” Colourful machines was the key differentiator between Apple and non-Apple computers as seen in the original iMac and iBook G3. Compare that to the simplistic aluminum gray of today’s Macs.

Apple’s largest monitor at the time was only 22 inches. Today, you can get the 27-inch Apple LCD Cinema Display if you’re willing to shell out a thousand dollars. And finally, the era of iPods was in its infancy, as the original Mac-only 5 GB iPod launched in October. No one in 2001 could anticipate the iPod craze in the middle of the decade, or the iPhone era towards the end of it.

But there was another launch a few months back, also in New York, almost exactly 10 years ago to this date. It was Apple’s first store at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The iconic glass cube continues to be Apple’s top earning store, reportedly pulling in just under half a billion dollars in sales at the height of the most recent recession. Since then, Apple Stores have played host to hordes of people camping overnight in anticipation of Apple product launches, or even the launch of the store itself.

Apple Stores defied logic against all odds and went on to become a unique retailing venture which gave the successful California-based gadget maker a recognizable public face. The stores are Apple’s signature street presence, with their superior visual articulation that has been captivating fans worldwide and guiding every brand experience. As you know, Apple Stores turned ten today as Apple ended the March quarter with 323 stores and greeted one billion retail visitors. In addition to the US, Apple Stores today reach far-flung places like Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, UK and Japan.

The spectacular glass cylinder store in Shanghai’s Pudong district opened for business last year. It’s now the company’s most profitable store, a result of the “Apple effect” stemming from huge iPad and iPhone popularity in China

Glass staircase suspended mid-air, bright and simple furniture, latest gadgets that can be touched and played with — it must be an Apple store

Apple’s landmark Carrousel du Louvre store in Paris, France

At 25,000 square feet, London’s Regent Street retail spot is the largest Apple store in the world

Now that we passed Apple’s tenth year anniversary of Macs, let’s take a look back at what Apple stores might have been like ten years ago. The following video was dug up by Cult of Mac, and shows a healthier and animated Steve Jobs demoing a concept of the Apple Store. Most of the store’s elements remain intact to this day, but with some changes. The theatre at the back was phased out in favour of larger Genius Bars, which were smaller back then. The large store space dedicated for shoppers to surf the web on Apple’s laptops and desktops was there (although with more security than shown in this video). The checkout counters were phased out in favour of on-the-spot ordering with printers hidden under the tables.

Apple Stores: Fun factoids

  • Apple Retail employs 30,000 hip people
  • average per-square-foot revenue was $4,300 in late 2009 versus $872 for Best Buy
  • they spend about $315,000 per store on wood furniture
  • flagship stores cost anywhere between $20 and $40 million versus about $1 for a small mall store
  • the Boston store is the largest in North America
  • the world’s largest Apple Store is located in London’s Regent Street, measuring 25,000 square feet
  • the smallest outlet is the 540 square feet store Santa Rosa Plaza, California
  • the Bondi store in Australia has a living tree inside
  • flagship stores are found at landmark spots in Boston, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Sydney, Perth, Montreal, Munich, Zurich, Paris, Beijing, Glasgow, Honolulu and Shanghai
  • perhaps the most famous Apple Store is the flagship 32-foot glass cube New York City store on Fifth Avenue, open 24 hours a day
  • 10,000 people applied for a job at Manhattan’s Upper West Side store in 2009, but only 200 were accepted
  • more than half of the Macs sold in Apple’s retail stores are purchased by switchers
  • Gary Allen’s ifoAppleStore, which passionately follows Apple Stores, has nearly 2,000 pages of information on all aspects of Apple’s retail store operation (and they have more amusing factoids)
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