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Remembering before the Apple Retail Stores

John Gruber on the way that people got the Apple retail stores 100% wrong:

The first is that Edwards wasn’t out on a limb. In the investor and general tech press, it was common at the outset to believe that Apple’s foray into retail was folly. The second is that Edwards was more than just a little bit wrong. He wasn’t merely implying that retail might prove difficult for Apple, that success was a longshot. His argument, backed by quotes from analysts and even former Apple CFO Joseph Graziano, was that Apple’s retail foray was surely doomed.

One of the things that you have to remember about people writing about Apple in those days – and I was one – is that we’d got used to an Apple which constantly failed. The ten years prior to the release of the iMac had seen Apple lurch from drama to crisis, with not a single major success to its name.

Even after Jobs’ return, the company had a few initial missteps. The new OS strategy, required to replace the ageing OS 8/9, had a big change of course when Rhapsody (which didn’t run legacy Mac apps) transformed into Mac OS X. The Power Mac G4 Cube was a failure, leading to the company “suspending” production (it has yet to resume).

I remember being sceptical about the Apple retail project for two reasons. The first was that Apple had never really done retail. In Europe, it had created the AppleCentre idea, which was an Apple-controlled (but not owned) set of “premium” retailers. You had to follow strict guidelines to be an AppleCentre, and in return got the kudos of the Apple brand behind you.

The second reason I thought Apple might be doing the wrong thing was that its existing dealers had invested a lot of money in keeping the Mac afloat during some hard times, and setting up in direct competition to them was a kick in the teeth. Yes, there were some slightly dodgy box shifters amongst retailers, and the experience in national stores like PC World had never been great. But most dealers – and I talked to them a lot back then – were really passionate advocates for the brand and platform.

Really, almost no-one thought that Apple retail stores were a great idea. But we were all wrong.

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