My Work Here is Done

March 27, 2015

After following Apple retail for 14 years, I’ve reached a happy ending, and am gracefully backing away from the crazy world of following the company and its stores. No more stories or analysis, or flying out to far-flung locations to join overnight crowds,waiting for the excitement of new store opening (NSO). I began this Web site as simply a way of celebrating the fun of grand openings and the close friendship of the people I met when I arrived in a new country or city. My first overnight camp-out was with my son Devin on the sidewalk in front of the epic Palo Alto store in October 2001, I continued to other store openings with him in China, Australia, UK and other countries. I’ve visited over 140 stores around the world. I even drove cross-country back in 2011 to celebrate the chain’s first store. Along the way, I have enjoyed every experience and personal encounter. I’ve met and corresponded with people from every continent who share my enthusiasm for Apple, its employees and products. Back in 2001, It seemed like I was the only person studying the stores. In fact, most onlookers were skeptical of the stores’ future success.

more recently, interest in Apple retail has expanded to financial analysts, designers, architects and other special interests

Now, everyone is interested in the Apple stores—and most of them also seem to be writing about the stores. Who am I to keep up with them?

So, I’m doing to focus on my family and friends, drop the demands of writing and get back to what it was before—just fun. I won’t be writing new stories, but will attempt to keep up with some of the list-type material on this Web site for reference. I will try to keep up with Twitter, and reply to email as best I can. I’ll continue to follow all those who are now writing about Apple, especially Mark Gurman and Daniel Eran  Dilger.But, it’s a firehose of information these days—not easy to keep up.

My final advice is: don’t overthink Apple. Instead, remember Steve Jobs and his boundless enthusiasm and joy—especially  on stage—for what the products can accomplish and make possible. It’s fine to speculate on sales numbers and stock price. But it’s more pertinent to wonder how FaceTime or other Apple product feature can bring distant people together, to help diverse cultures understand one another to make a better world. I know. I’ve been there, talking to strangers at 1 a.m. in front of a new Apple store about human rights, answering questions from eager Apple enthusiasts about Steve and Tim, sharing my views on how technology might bring improvements to this earth’s vast human community.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to my fun over the years, both customers and employees. You’ve made my life’s journey more enjoyable and substantial, which is all I can ask.

Remember what Steve said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” I’m now following mine. — Gary Allen

 

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For the most-avid Apple store enthusiast, a most-extraordinary opportunity has arisen to purchase an apartment inside an Apple store building. No more driving—or even walking—to your Genius Bar appointment or to pick up an accessory. Just take a short elevator ride to the ground floor. For an offer over US$495,000 you might win the bidding to live above the Brisbane (Australia) store, in an historic building with amenities that include a fitness center, sauna, car park and swimming pool. The apartment just came on the market. It’s one of five known Apple store buildings that include residential space. read more

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Although Apple’s Monday special event was intended to formally present Apple Watch, it seemed to be more about the company’s retail stores, which will bear the brunt of additional inventory, sales and traffic handling tasks to get the product out to buyers. In fact, employees at some stores will struggle to handle 10 separate streams of people flooding into their stores after the watch debuts. The event began with CEO Tim Cook giving a quick retail segment review, and showing photos of the new West Lake (China) store and the Apple watch display table. He announced that the watch ruckus will begin April 10th, when “select” stores—unidentified so far—will begin providing hands-on demonstrations of Apple Watch. Pre-orders will begin the same day on Apple’s on-line store. Apple will reportedly create a new reservation system to manage watch demonstrations, and a new pick-up system, separate from the existing one, for those who have purchased Apple Watch on-line. The latter system will include store time for the watch buyer to try on their purchased combination of watch and strap. After two weeks of in-store demonstrations that might create crowded and frenzied scenes, Apple Watch will go on-sale fully in the U.S. on April 24th, and in other countries some time after that. read more

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This video of the Zhongjie Joy City (Shenyang, China) Apple store grand opening on February 28th demonstrates the broad extent of the enthusiasm for Apple’s retail stores, and how it transcends cultures and international boundaries.

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Despite the Apple stores’ award-winning architecture, their revenue generation and employment opportunities, a group of Manhattan (NYC) residents is circulating a petition to block the opening of the future Upper East Side Apple store, calling it “the wrong store in the wrong place.” The residents say the store will create a “serious disruption” for their quiet residential community, with long lines of customers on narrow sidewalks, overnight camp-outs for new products, delivery truck congestion and street vendor food carts crowding the area. They are pursuing a solution through city government for now, but warn of future street demonstrations to support their cause. There have been architectural objections raised by various cities about previous Apple stores. But this appears to be the first store that has raised the ire of a neighborhood. The store was first revealed in May 2014, and Apple has already obtained the necessary permits. Interior construction is well underway inside a 1921-era limestone building on Madison Avenue at 74th Street that was once a bank, art gallery and luxury retailer VBH. The store could open this fall, perhaps before Thanksgiving. read more

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In typical Apple fashion, customer service trumped the scheduled 10 p.m. closing time of the Oakridge (N. Calif.) retail store last night, the last of nine mini-stores that debuted in 2004 and introduced the now-familiar stainless steel interior design. All of the other stores have moved to larger spaces, and now so has Oakridge. Store employees allowed a family to finish their purchase before lowering the security grating at 10:19 p.m. There were hugs among about 55 current and and past store employees in front of the store as it closed. They were joined by other Apple staffers and construction workers to applaud the family as they walked out. The store’s full-size replacement stood ready to open Saturday morning down the hallway. Construction workers paced around the old store as it closed, plotting the construction of framing and a barricade they erected within two hours to hide the store. Meanwhile, at midnight workers began removing the black plastic from the window glass of the new, larger store. A sign appeared at the old store directing customers to the “brand-new, larger store, across from the food court.” About 85 people queued for the new store’s 10 a.m. grand opening, including several displaying Apple ID cards. Visitors received a gray commemorative T-shirt. read more

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An original and significant element of Apple’s retail stores is disappearing. Over the past month workers have been removing the “atom” symbol that has pinpointed the Genius Bars since the first store opened in 2001, and they are replacing it with wall graphics to match those recently installed in back-lit wall displays. The Corte Madera (N. Calif.) store was the latest to make the change. The symbol was based on the chemistry depiction of an atom, meant to signify “genius.” It has gone through several revisions over the years to match the various interior designs. The version that accompanied Steve Job’s introduction of the first store was three-dimensional, framed by photos of notable people of history. Later the photos were replaced by video screens displaying product and reservation information. When the stainless steel interior design debuted, the atom logo initially remained as a 3D object. Later it was laser-cut into the steel and was back-lit. The video screens were retained. Over the years the location of the Genius Bar has changed, leading to this latest—and probably final—design change. Originally the bars were located at the back or along the side wall and needed some identification. More recently the Genius Bar is a free-standing table somewhere in the store, identified by acrylic signs on the table itself instead of a wall sign. read more

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Apple announced today that it’s signed an $848 million contract to purchase solar electricity that will convert all 52 of its California stores, its headquarters and a data center to green power by the end of 2016. Speaking at a San Francisco financial conference, CEO Tim Cook said, “Our view is that the time for talk is past and the time for action is now.” He said the company has signed a 25-year lease with First Solar Inc. for 130 megawatts of electricity. The deal will help Apple save money, Cook said, but only as a secondary goal. “We’re doing this because it’s right to do.” The company’s July 2014 environmental report said that 140 U.S. stores were being powered by green energy at the time. Figures provided by the company suggested it costs $33 million a year to power the retail store chain. The company is moving to convert more stores world-wide to green energy, but has said that government regulation and the mall-based location of many stores slows the process. In a press release, First Solar said the agreement with Apple was the largest in the industry to provide clean energy to a commercial end user. The plant will be located in rural Monterey County south of San Francisco, and will be completed by the end of 2016.

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The Manhattan (NYC) district attorney announced indictments today against four former Apple retail store employees and a dental office receptionist, accusing them of defrauding Barclays Bank of of $700,000 through fraudulently-obtained Apple gift cards. The alleged scheme included employees from stores in New York state and New Jersey, and originated with stolen personal information from over 250 dental patients. The personal information was used to obtain instant on-line credit from Barclays which, in turn, was used to purchase Apple gift cards, ultimately used to buy Apple products at retail stores. The indictment contains 394 counts against the five people, and took two and a half years to untangle. Indicted were Devin Bazile, 30, Sharniqkwa Dukes, 24, and Joshua Haughton, 28, all working at unnamed stores. Also indicted was Ahmeen Evans, 26 of the Short Hills store, and Annie Vuong, 27, a dental receptionist. According to the DA, between May and September 2012 Vuong fed patients information to Bazile, who used it to obtain instant credit from Barclay’s on-line Web site. The credit authorization codes could have been directly used to buy Apple products. But the indictment says Bazile shared the codes with Haughton, and the two fed the codes to Dukes and Evans in order to help conceal the original fraud. Dukes and Evans allegedly purchased Apple gift cards to further conceal the fraud. The DA’s statement doesn’t say who later used the gift cards to make purchases of Apple products that ranged from $2,000 to $7,000. read more

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In the wake of Apple’s unexplained decision to no longer separately report retail store financial results, the company has posted a final, tantalizing summary of how the stores have performed by geography over the past three years, showing Japan with wildly variable quarterly revenues, and even two quarters of loss. The Americas lead all geographies with $3.48 billion in revenue for FY 2014, followed by Europe ($510 million) and Greater China ($407 million). The “reconciliation” document (pdf) was posted with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week with other financial filings, and was first spotted by Mav on the AAPL Tree Web site. details

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Prompted by future career possibilities, and encouraged by the value of his Apple stock, Apple’s veteran vice president of retail real estate and development Bob Bridger is leaving the company at the end of March. Insiders say his departure is also likely linked to dissatisfaction with major changes coming to the operation of the retail stores within the next few months, orchestrated by new-ish Sr. VP Retail and Online stores Angela Ahrendts. He reportedly announced his departure to co-workers last week. However, the company has not acknowledged his departure and has not announced a replacement. Bridger’s decision to leave is the latest in a series over of similar moves over the past five years that has drained the company of the retail executives who had a major influence on the chain’s success. Bridger’s longevity and influence are unmatched. He was an early Apple retail employee, and is listed as a co-designer for the original glass staircase at SoHo (NYC) and the ground-breaking vaulted glass ceiling architecture used at Palo Alto and others. He literally stood at Steve Jobs’ left hand, and guided the chain through its expansion to almost 450 stores over 13 years. He helped steer the chain through a particularly turbulent period after Sr. VP retail Ron Johnson left the company in 2012, including the episode that spanned the hiring and firing of John Browett. He frequently appeared at retail store openings to provide the traditional press briefing, and just last week gave interviews to Chinese media about that country’s new stores. Over the past two years he has also found time to lend his experience and expertise for Apple’s headquarters construction project. store changes

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After four years of promises to increase the number of retail stores in China, Apple has turned serious, announcing today that there will be 40 stores open in the country by mid-2016, an unprecedented level of expansion in any of the countries where Apple has stores. During a financial conference call today, CEO Tim Cook also announced that the next big step in retailing for Apple will arrive in April—the Apple Watch. But for the first time, the company didn’t separately report financial results for the retail stores, but rather lumped their revenue, profit and other metrics into other categories. Overall, the company set records in almost every financial category. In fact, the company’s record $18 billion profit was the most reported by any company in history for a single quarter. The China retail push stems partly from a desire to take advantage of dramatically increasing revenues in the country. For the latest quarter, Greater China revenues soared 70 percent compared to the previous year, fueled by sales of the iPhone 6 models. Apple has long-recognized China’s sales potential, and former Sr. VP retail Ron Johnson promised to double the number of stores back in 2010 to capture new revenue. Cook made a similar pledge last year, but only recently has the pace of store expansion increased. Five stores will open by the end of February, the company says, bringing the total to 20, and then the number of stores will double over the following 18 months. The rapid expansion has caused a hiring pinch in China, and Apple has recently begun recruiting staff from among its pool of existing U.S. store employees to move to China and fill empty positions. expansion index chart

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A new financial filing shows that Apple made extraordinary financial offers to Sr. VP Angela Ahrendts last year, hoping she would quit her job at Burberry, move back to the United States and take control of the company’s most visible operations, the on-line and retail stores. At the time, Apple says that Ahrendts was among the highest-paid executives in the UK, and so they assembled a combination of Apple stock grants, an annual salary and bonus, relocation expenses and even an unusual severance package to lure her to the company. Ahrendts joined Apple May 1, 2014 to provide the first-ever unified management of the retail and on-line stores. She was also the first woman on the company’s senior management team. According to the filing made yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Apple offered $33 million in “new hire” stock grants to “encourage Ms. Ahrendts to join the Company and to provide her with a meaningful equity stake in the Company.” Another $37 million in Apple stock grants were designated as “make whole” shares, to compensate Ahrendts for Burberry stock she held, but had not yet vested. The new-hire grants were based on Apple’s traditional performance metrics and vest over several years. The make-whole grants were structured using Burberry’s metrics in effect at the time. Ahrendts was also offered a $1 million annual salary, and a $500,000 “hire-on” bonus intended to offset some of the Burberry compensation she lost upon leaving that company. more details

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Apple will be opening four China retail stores in rapid succession over the next five weeks, according to the company’s Sr. vice-president for retail, including the West Lake (Hangzhou) store that is now covered with an expansive poem created by a noted calligraphy artist. Angela Ahrendts told China news agency Xinhua that the stores will open by Chinese New Year on February 19th, and will bring the total number of stores in the country to 20. A fifth store already opened January 10th at MixC Zhengzhou, while the West Lake store will open January 24th. Ahrendts said four of the stores are in brand new cities for Apple retail. In a rare interview since taking over on-line and store retail operations in October 2013, Ahrendts said the company’s biggest challenge for China retail is hiring enough employees, while maintaining the company’s customer service standards. She added that Apple has increased its service staff in Greater China (including Hong Kong) by 75 percent since 2012, bringing the number of retail employees there to 3,700. Ahrendts didn’t mention the locations of the other three stores that will open soon. However, IFO has confirmed add-on stores MixC Chongqing, Canton Road (Hong Kong) and MixC Hangzhou; and debut stores, Zhongjie Joy City (Shenyang), and Tianjin Joy City. Additional stores are planned for Nanjing Dalian and Guangzhou, sources say.

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A new display window appeared first at the Regent Street (London) Apple store shows a simple line-up of iPads set on a thin white counter. What makes the display so mesmerizing for passersby is how the Smart Covers open and close, all without any visible connection to a mechanical device. The video was taken at the Valley Fair Think “magnets.” read more

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