Apple opened its doors this morning, offering a first glimpse at its new flagship London retail store.
Apple's senior vice president of retail, Ron Johnson, gave journalists an update on the company's activity in the sector, and discussed the new store's winning features.
"London is store 99," he said, "we keep on learning, and we believe the London store is the best we've opened yet." The company has opened a store every 13 days since 2001.
The London outlet is Apple's fourth flagship retail store, and has the largest sales floor of all the company's stores. Others are in New York, Chicago and Tokyo.
The Tokyo launch was a litmus test: "That's when we learned that our store philosophy of treating people right worked. We knew from Tokyo that our retail model would be embraced globally", he said.
"Apple's stores have always been about being more than a store. Our goal is to be part of people's lives, so we need to locate our stores to be part of their lives. We were thinking about a London store, and we wanted it to be on London's busiest street."
Art and design for the people
He stressed that Apple's stunningly-designed London store, with a fantastic, see-through glass staircase acting as a centrepiece, is for everyone, not just Mac users: "It's for kids, senior citizens, everyone. We carry the right stuff, and carefully choose only the best of the best products."
Apple sits at a moment where art meets technology meets people. Its stores aim to reflect a customer-focused, enabling experience: "Half the store is products, the other half is about what you want to do. Music, video and more," Johnson said.
Apple's lead architect, Peter Bohlin of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, had flown into London to launch the store. He explained his perspective on the space: "This is really about people, more than things. Steve has always said he sees himself as at the nexus of technology and art, and I would add, people. We are at the point where technology, art and people meet".
The thrilling design needs to be seen to be understood, Macworld has an image gallery here. On the project, Bohlin said: "How do you make an environment that works? How do you pull people to a different level? We had no skylight here, so our team has done this ceiling in the middle of the hall.
He also explained why Apple has chosen to make the London Genius Bar the biggest yet: "In a world of phone support, we decided it would be great to offer face-to-face support".
Johnson explained the philosophy of the Genius Bar: "We believe in doing well by doing good, we don't talk about revenue, we talk about pleasing our customers," he said.
Additional in-store features include: training, tutorials, face-to-face help, a kids area, sixty Internet-connected Macs, and a repair facility that aims to fix your broken Mac in just two days, he said: "We have created a community here, with a lot of reasons for people to come, and a lot of reasons to come back."
The London outlet also sees Apple introduce a new in-store feature, The Studio. Johnson explained what The Studio is for: "It's a new idea for London. Your ideas, our help." He discussed Apple's thinking: "If people value you being available when they have a problem, wouldn't they value you ebing avaialble when they are trying to make something?"
Johnson explained what the ten-seat Studio is for. "The Studio is staffed by creatives - movie-makers, photgraphers, designers. If you are working on a project, you can just 'belly-up' to them and ask them.
"You can also visit the Studio just to learn something, or just sit there and work on a project, and get their advice." Mac users who are stumped or just want to add a little sparkle to their project can also ask for help at The Studio.
Thrilled, Johnson said, "for the first time ever, people have access to the creativity Apple is known for".
Many called, few chosen
In excess of 4,000 people applied for jobs at the store, just 138 employees got hired, two of these from the US, the rest from the UK. "We speak 24 languages in this store," he said, adding, "and everyone speaks Windows".
"Regent Street is our best store yet, and it's all organised around the digital lifestyle. It's a place to be like none we've ever created. We're really proud of the store," he said.
The store opens for business at 10am on Saturday November 20. The first 2,500 visitors will be given free commemorative London T-shirts. There's a £2,500-value prize for the winner of the digital lifestyle sweepstake, and £249 Lucky Bags will be available for sale, each valued at at least £700, with some containing extra high-value items, such as iPods.Much more information about Apple's opening day plans for the store is available here.