Genius Departs, But Leaves Behind Some Advice

July 29, 2011

The benefits to consumers of replaceable Apple hardware are actually working against Apple retail employees, leading to less pay, an increased workload and the “delegitimizing” of the role of workers, according to an email written by a departing Genius from the Woodland (Mich.) store earlier this month. A person named “Kevin T.” sent the long and thoughtful email to other Genii, noting that Apple retail employees represent a “multicultural cross-section of the contemporary American worker and its future: we are primarily young and educated with few job prospects in a depressed economy that continues to fail.” And yet, he says store employees are, “frequently reminded by management how lucky we are to have a job at all, let alone one that has the generous benefits that Apple provides.” His thoughts and perspectives are mirrored by other store employees who have dared to speak out about their jobs recently.

The story of today’s Genius Bars is written in the numbers—the crowds of visitors have outstripped Genius Bar space and Genii time. At the end of 2004, there were 95 smallish stores ranging from 30 feet to 45 feet wide, handling about 10 million visitors per quarter. Since then, 18 of those stores have been expanded or moved to larger spaces, Apple’s acknowledgement of the overcrowding. But the rest of the early stores have remained at their original size as the number of visitors has increased by a whopping 700 percent (chart below). That increase has been driven both by more interest in Apple’s products, but also by a continually-increasing number of Apple product owners over the years, who inevitably head to the Genius Bar for service. In fact, 20 percent of the chain’s visitors during 2004 walked straight to the Genius Bar, according to Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson at the time.

In his email to Genii, Kevin noted the ever-increasing Genius Bar staff workload, partially attributed to a company philosophy of “Get to Yes.” But that “Yes” comes at a price, he says. Replacing a customer’s product does simplify the workflow and decrease the interaction time with customers. But it also, “devalues the education a customer receives on their product and the troubleshooting, technical skills and patience required to educate and repair,” Kevin says. A replacement policy also, “decreases the customer experience in what they pay for and what they expect, and sets an irresponsible precedent overall for the lack of responsibility required of owners of consumer electronics.” The process turns Genii into “Swap-zillas,” a term that is commonly used at Kevin’s store.

I don’t want to support a culture that sells the idea of 24-hour on-demand personal entertainment that takes us outside of what’s real. – Kevin T.

With his goodbye, Kevin tells other Genii, “Talk to each other. Talk at work. Talk at home. Stay engaged, get involved. NPP isn’t yours, it’s management’s.” He urges them to share information on their pay, on what changes they’d like to make and how to do the job differently. “Question information,” Kevin advises. “Who’s to gain based on a decision? Why is there a disparity here or there? Why can’t our requests be met?” Lastly, he tells them to, “Look into the Apple Retail Union and the IWW,” and provides several Web links for research.

Kevin included an “additional rant” that expressed his fear that humans are becoming “defined by what’s on our screens.” He philosophized, “Valuing, discovering, leveraging the power of and sharing honest information may be our generation’s greatest tool for doing good.” He said that corporations are beholden to their share holders, but he added, “As workers and consumers (corporations) must be accountable to us.

He ended with more philosophy. “As workers, as students, as a generation we need to put down our screens, inform ourselves, talk to each other, organize and act. When you seek truth and nonviolence the oppressors can only provide the opposite: untruth and violence. If you are appalled by such things then you can find human morality on the side of the exploited, the disenfranchised, the manipulated, the marginalized. If we share these passions in the physical presence of other humans we might experience a new joy. We might affect a change towards something we believe is better.”

Read Kevin’s entire email.

The number of total visitors has doubled over the last three years, straining even the staff and space at recently-built stores. Earlier stores are suffering under a workload that is four to 10 times what they experienced after opening day.

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