In January of 2000, Apple covertly hired Ron Johnson, a former vice-president of merchandising for Target (and rumored potential Jobs successor) to develop and launch a line of retail stores that would honor Apple's "think different" philosophy. Part of his process was to build a full-scale mock store inside a Cupertino, California warehouse. The first iteration was deemed all wrong, scrapped and replaced with (essentially) the model we see today.
According to AppleInsider, the first 11 stores were opened for US$1.6 million opening costs each (with one exception) and 10-12 year leases.
Apple Store openings have become crowd-drawing events. Typically, hundreds if not thousands of fans wait for cheering employees to welcome them inside with high-fives and wide smiles. A limited number of commemorative T-shirts are often distributed, with especially fun examples accompanying openings in Boston, Sydney (bondi blue) and Paris, where shirts were packaged inside pyramids.
[Correction appended. –Ed.] The Apple Stores were unique in many respects, but certain features stood out. Early stores had dedicated point-of-sales stations, but Apple abandoned the notion (and the countertop) by
launching the iPod-based EasyPay system using a WindowsCE-based EasyPay mobile commerce solution. This allowed customers to pay for their items where ever they happened to be standing. After swiping a credit card and signing the handheld by drawing a signature, customers received their bagged purchase(s) as a receipt was sent home via email. In 2009 the WindowsCE mobile handhelds were replaced with an iPod touch-based version of the EasyPay system; this new setup would eventually attract other retailers, including the Girl Scouts and Old Navy.
The Genius Bar is a prominent feature of every Apple Store. They're staffed by "geniuses," or employees trained in diagnosing and repairing Apple products not deemed "obsolete" (save the occasional SE). Until 2002, Genius Bar customers were offered bottles of Evian water.
The Ginza, Japan Apple Store was the first to introduce a separate iPod Genius Bar to accommodate the huge number of iPod customers requesting help. Similar arrangements later appeared in New York Apple Stores.
In 2007, Mac|Life published a look at life as an Apple Store Genius, noting that the rigorous training process focuses on solving problems, not questions like "How does iDVD work?" (or what to do when a man threatens to shoot his iPhone).
In 2007, Apple let customers make Genius Bar reservations 2 days in advance. Once you're there, follow these steps to for getting prompt, friendly service.
By 2004, Apple had committed to a reported $386 million in lease payments and spent $359 million on capital expenditures across 22 stores. It was also reported that several of Apple's leases had buy-out options, meaning that Apple could potentially end 10- and 12-year leases early.
Fortunately for Apple, the stores were earning much more than they cost.
In Q1 2011, revenue from Apple stores reached an impressive $9.8 billion, representing 15 percent of the company's total sales. Former Apple executive (and founder of the company that created BeOS) Jean-Louis Gassée called Apple's stores a "...sterling example of everything that can go right in retail: record sales volume per square foot, traffic numbers, profitability, aesthetics (more at Apple's architecture firm: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson) and customer service."
Today, several huge stores wow huge numbers of customers every day. In fact, Apple Stores now welcome more visitors than Major League Baseball stadiums (and earn more, too). The Shanghai store (above) features the largest curved glass panels in the world and more hands-on gadgets to play with than any other Apple Store.
London's Regent Street store welcomed its 10 millionth visitor...four years ago, and New York's 5th Avenue store, with its huge glass cube, has become a tourist destination in its own right.
I've made purchases in a few Apple Stores, and it never gets old. Friendly staff, lots of goodies to play with and an immaculately clean store mean a very pleasant experience. Congratulations to Apple and all of the employees who make Apple Stores so great.
Rumors suggest that Apple is planning something special to celebrate, so keep your eyes peeled if you visit a store next week. Have fun!
*Technically, the McLean store opened first, being on the U.S. East Coast, but the Glendale store has the designation "001."