Early Store Designer Warns That Chain Is Not Evolving

October 3, 2013

Apple’s retail stores are starting to look “long in the tooth,” according to one of the chain’s early designers, and the company should be reinventing the store experience every five years to keep up with the pace of competition from other technology companies. Tim Kobe, co-founder of the design firm Eight Inc., didn’t mention the 11-month vacancy for the chain’s Sr. VP position as the cause of the stores’ malaise. However, he did recall that Steve Jobs was the driving force in developing and fine-tuning the chain when it was originally conceived. Kobe was interviewed by the Web site Dezeen following his appearance in Singapore at this year’s Inside conference on interior design. “It’s not evolving as fast as it could be,” said Kobe of Apple’s chain. “Since Steve passed away the momentum has slowed down a bit. It’s imperative Apple shifts again. They should really refresh every five years.” He warned, “If you’re not reinventing it, you’re losing your advantage.” Kobe recalled that his firm had already been working with Apple on design projects in 1999 when Steve Jobs asked him to start thinking about retail. He recalls trying out a “dense presentation” version of a retail store, but learned, “It wasn’t accessible enough, democratic or simple enough.” The final design was much more open and spacious, he said. Looking ahead, Kobe said, “I think the design is getting a little long in the tooth in terms of just continuing to roll out the same type of solution so my sense is that retail is a competitive environment, and I think Apple’s ready for that next shift.” Apple’s previous Sr. VP Retail was John Browett, who was fired in October 2012 after clashing with Apple’s retail culture. He had been on the job for just six months.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Luis Masanti October 4, 2013 at 1208

I appreciate his commentary but, if his “dense presentation” was dismissed by Apple, why should it take into account his actual thoughts?

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Arcticfire October 5, 2013 at 0041

I still get jazz when I go to an Apple store.
Makes me feel young again.
I’m late 50ties!

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Nick October 5, 2013 at 0609

I don’t think they need a refreash. They need to add more stores. I have to drive over an hour to the nearest Apple store in Atlanta

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Actual employee October 5, 2013 at 0907

The stores have evolved a lot. In terms of how the experience is handled. Not the look, which seems to be what this guy is all about.

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SecretAboutBox October 6, 2013 at 1537

I don’t think it’s so much for branding purposes that the stores should evolve but rather for plain old functionality. At this time across the country stores experience common issues.

Intolerable if not outright dangerous sound pressure levels. It is extraordinarily difficult for a normal conversation to occur for sales or training purposes. The hard surfaces everywhere do nothing to promote reasonable acoustics. The stress of spending 20-40 hours a week in these conditions is akin to that of working in a noisy factory without ear protection.

Floor and fixture space for dealing with customer volume is nearing the breaking point. The Family Room running at full queue capacity ends up with an enormous number of individuals massed at the back of the store biding their time hoping the schedule is maintained. Selling activities deter browsers from taking their time with display machines. Where many Apple stores now exist in spaces suited to selling clothing and candy, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to size these stores on a scale approaching that of a BestBuy. What now serves as a single store in many markets could be triple that floor space with a full portion for each Family Room, Red Zone, and Training. The retail division must evolve to handle near Disney like demand in most metro areas.

As Apple continues to have channel-partner sell-through success every quarter compounds the traffic at the Apple Store itself. These locations need to grow based not only on the success of the location but on the success of the Apple brand itself. At some point they must shed the distinction of being $/sq.ft. cash cows to accepting lower profitability per square foot in service to the needs of supporting the brand and it’s sacred mission of customer experience.

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This October 8, 2013 at 2356

This. Steve may be gone, but Apple is still investing incredible amounts of time building technically complex, architecturally stunning flagship stores that still aren’t all that large given the market they’re serving. Someone else mentioned Atlanta — here’s a metro area of 6 million with only 4 Apple stores, all of them small, all of them buried inside malls. The story is the same in most metropolitan areas outside of California — but even there, the stores they do build are too small.

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