Browett Leaves, Third-Party Shelves Get Make-Over

November 4, 2012

In a touch of irony just days after Apple retail chief John Browett made a sudden and unexpected departure from the company, the retail stores are reorganizing their third-party product shelves, a point of sale that Browett had passionately tried to bulk up shortly after he arrived. According to sources, the stainless steel shelves in the rear section of each store will now be organized horizontally, and by theme: Storage, Fashion, Creative, App-Based Accessories, Fitness and more. In addition the top row of shelving will disappear, since no ordinary-sized customer could reach so high for products. The new layout provides a more attractive appearance, visitors say, and makes it easier to find products. The change comes just as Apple begins stocking several new products, including the Hue lighting system, Nike+ Fuelband, and various iPhone 5 cases. These same shelves were reportedly the focus of Browett’s passion for increasing Apple store sales and revenues, leading to a revealing confrontation at several Los Angeles-area stores last July.

According to sources, two months after he was hired, Browett visited most of the LA stores to gain insight into store operations and meet employees. During more than one of his visits, employees saw and heard Browett “openly and forcefully” disagreeing with Steve Cano, Sr. Director of International Retail, over Apple’s long-time merchandising methods. Cano had been accompanying Browett on his tours.

According to those present at the stores, Browett was “apoplectic” when he noticed that not all of the third-party products stocked in the back-of-house (BOH) space were on display on the accessory shelving. He demanded an immediate change in merchandising policy—all third-party products in stock must offered for sale on the floor. Such a policy is favored by most mass-market retailers such as Dixons, where Browett previously worked, Best Buy and others. The intent is to make as many products as possible visible to customers, maximizing the chances they will pick one for purchase. Such a policy is antithetical to Apple’s retail philosophy.

In fact, all Apple stores keep stock of many more products than fit on the retail store shelves. The inventory policy dates back to the original Apple retail philosophy of closely limiting the number of products, primarily to present a simplified visual appearance for visitors. But in some cases, it’s also because products are rotated onto the floor for two or three weeks, then pulled off so that another product can be displayed. Other products are stocked BOH so that employees can sell them during an interaction with customers, or for sale through the Personal Pickup program.

During the LA visits, employees heard Cano attempt to explain the reasons behind the company’s merchandising methods. “But Browett wouldn’t have it,” one person says. Browett categorically dismissed Cano’s explanation as the way Apple “used to do business,” and stated that his methods were now the new policy.

Browett was so insistent that at one store, the sources say, he demanded an Inventory Control Specialist to immediately go out to the retail floor and begin restocking the third-party product shelving according to the new policy. The Specialist did.

People who saw the interactions between Browett and Cano say they highlighted the deep division in retail philosophy between the two men, and showed Browett’s disdain for Apple retail’s 10 years of business. The witnesses also sensed Browett’s contempt for those employees who had been a part of the Retail segment since its first day, including Cano.

So, just two months after Browett arrived, employees at the southern California Apple stores quickly came to the conclusion that Browett’s priority was profits and not people. Within three weeks, stories of Browett’s attitude became public, and two months later, he was dismissed.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Throwthatham November 4, 2012 at 0740

You still have to be 6 foot 5 to reach product. Things are rearranged in these categories, but things are still out of reach for many customers.

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Charlie November 4, 2012 at 1620

Apple should stop experimenting with outside hires and just name Steve Cano new SVP of Retail. He’s been there from day one and specializes in a crucial area of Apple’s strategy of expanding the retail presence outside the U.S. Let’s git ‘er dun’, Timothy.

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Joe November 5, 2012 at 1033

How anyone could disagree with a strategy that in only 10 years would become the most dominant retail chain is beyond me. If you looked at the biggest complaints customers had for apple stores, lack of 3rd party products wasn’t even in the top 10. Till Browett showed up, it seemed the focus for the future was on bigger stores and bigger staffs to keep the experience in tact. So many of the older apple stores are frankly too small for what the company has become. Crowding them with more stereo boxes, and less staff wasn’t the way to improve that.

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fight.the.stupids November 5, 2012 at 1551

When I was at Apple this would have been referred to as ‘thinking in the weeds’. Apple generally wanted management to think a little bigger picture, have a little more vision and be a bit more strategic than how the 3pp were placed.

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john November 5, 2012 at 1756

My vote is Jerry McDougal. He is a top notch guy with more global knowledge and experience than Cano. Love Cano, he just is not senior enough. Jerry was Ron’s right hand for years and is the best candidate in my opinion.

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Jesse Bonham November 9, 2012 at 2040

Jerry is a soulless mid-level manager who surrounds himself with sycophants and preppy jocks-turned-merchants. Zero charisma. If Apple has to pick someone internally then I guess Steve Cano would be the guy.

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me2 November 5, 2012 at 1807
JEPP5000 November 5, 2012 at 2012

I’m happy that asshole is gone!

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KayM November 6, 2012 at 1420

hahahaah yeaaa we all happy ;)

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KayM November 6, 2012 at 1422

i met browett in munich (germany) and this guy was really the wrong man for this job i don’t like him from the first minute

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MJ November 14, 2012 at 0033

I spent time with Cano on many occasions and he is truly an inspirational leader who is Apple through and through. I would love to see either Cano or Jerry get the gig. Both leaders have different strengths and would do an excellent job.

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walterwhite November 20, 2012 at 0541

Cano, McDougal and others like Ilene Magee are amazing leaders and know every crevice of the Apple Retail business timeline and definitely have a truly focused vision on where it needs to be headed. Truly great people already working in the company should be moved up. #my2cents

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Steven December 9, 2012 at 2309

Browett’s hiring was a head-scratcher from the start. It seems as if it would have only taken a cursory examination of his previous domain to see that he wouldn’t get it. Luckily, Cook didn’t feel any obligation to stick with a decision just because a reversal would look bad.

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