PALO ALTO, CALIF. — Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs was on hand Saturday morning to give employees of Apples flagship retail store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, Calif. a pep talk before its grand opening.
Jobs also officially welcomed the throngs of Mac fans waiting outside as the doors opened. The new Apple Store is just minutes from Apples corporate headquarters in Cupertino.
The anticipation was great. Mac fan Kevin Johnson figured that arriving at 4:00 p.m. Friday would ensure him the No. 1 spot in line as the first person in the door. But he was wrong. Sachin Agarwal nailed first place by arriving at 1:30 p.m. on Friday — more than 20 hours before the store opened.
“This is a great day for Apple and I want to support them,” Agarwal told MacCentral Friday night. Agarwal, a student at nearby Stanford University, just purchased a Power Mac G4 Cube this summer. While he had no plans for a big purchase at the store, he did say he pick up a few peripherals.
Kevin Johnson, a graphic artist and independent film producer, said he might purchase a Cinema Display to go with his G4 733MHz desktop computer. Johnson initially hadnt planed on staying when he first showed up Friday afternoon. “I came down to see if they needed any help getting ready for the opening,” Johnson told MacCentral. “I would have washed the windows or scrubbed the floor — whatever I could do to help. They had everything done, so I decided to buy a chair across the street and stay the night.”
As you might expect, the Palo Alto store looks very similar to the other Apple stores. There have been some very subtle changes in pictures hanging above some of the displays and in the islands holding the MP3 players, digital camcorders and digital cameras.
Every Apple product is on display in the first 25 percent of the store, with the next 50 percent of space dedicated to Apples “Digital Hub” concept. The rear 25 percent holds the Theatre and Genius Bar. Having Apple products front and center fits into the companys plans for the stores — to attract the 95 percent of consumers not currently using the Mac.
“We are here to expand Apples market share,” Senior Vice President of Retail Ron Johnson told MacCentral. “The store is oriented to those 95 percent that dont use Macs.”
The night before the grand opening, the Palo Alto outlet was already drawing a crowd, as passersby paused to admire the display of iBooks and G4s. By the time the stores doors opened on Saturday morning, several hundred Mac users had gathered in line to take a look.
The stores will provide a place for Mac users to bring their friends and show them the latest technologies and cool products. And since its a very hands-on type of store, they can also demo applications like iDVD, iTunes, Mac OS X 10.1 and iMovie. Until now, this has been lacking in a Mac users arsenal — we could explain why the Mac was better, but we didnt have a place to show off the latest and greatest from Apple. Pointing out a product in a resellers catalog just doesnt have the same affect as standing in front of a 22-inch Cinema Display, burning a DVD on a G4 and then playing it back on a nearby home DVD player and the TV set provided in the store.
Apple is also continuing to work with local resellers, making sure they understand the companys strategy. “Were a concierge to the Mac community,” Johnson said. “We will work with resellers to send them customers for service or whatever they need.”
Johnson said he also believes the Apple store employees and the location of the stores have a big part to play in growing the companys market share. The stores are staffed by Mac enthusiasts who are paid to be helpful and provide a positive experience for the consumer — theyre not on commission for how much product they sell that day.
“If we put great stores in a place where people are going and staff them with well-trained people, were confident we can grow market share,” Johnson said. “The quality of the real estate will drive where we will open a store — Apple doesnt need to open stores before they are ready.”
Johnson had 15 years of retail experience with department store chain Target before coming to Apple, and he and his team are confident in what they are doing with the stores. They are taking the slow, steady approach with each opening and are very pleased with the performance of the retail operation so far.