Apple has built more than five hundred retail stores across twenty-five countries. The first international store was in Japan, the country they had chosen to dominate. Apple Stores welcome over five hundred million visitors every year, and they’ve proven to be more profitable per square foot than any other company.
All the successful journeys of the giant tech started rather small. The first Apple Store opened at the Tysons Corner Center mall in Virginia, almost twenty years ago. Now let’s take a look inside the first Apple Store, and I’ll explain the concept, the layout, and the strategy Apple used to become a successful retailer.
Let’s go back to 2001 and see what Apple’s first store looked like. Its layout and design are much different than what we’re used to seeing today. There are several reasons for this. Just look at the store’s entrance, which featured a black facade with two Apple logos on either side. A design you don’t see anymore since they only use one Apple logo on the front of their stores today. The black accents used at early locations like this one is no longer part of Apple’s retail design today.
Not everything has changed. When you walked inside this store, you probably noticed the emphasis on symmetry. A design element often used in traditional Japanese architecture that Jobs deeply appreciated and wanted to include in their stores. That’s one thing that still hasn’t changed. Virtually, every Apple store today still maintains this focus on symmetrical design.
But something you may find odd about this store was the big counter at the very front. Where customers would line up and pay for their products. It’s not something you’ll see today, since they try to prevent lines from forming as much as possible. Honestly, it was a little odd to walk into these old Apple Stores and be greeted by the end of the cash register line, that you had to navigate around to start browsing products. But once you did, you quickly realized that Apple’s product offerings were sparse.
That’s because back in 2001, they only sold five products: the iMac, Power Mac and Power Mac Cube, iBook, and PowerBook. And that posed a challenge. How would Apple fill up an entire store with five products? Well, they did it by offering what they called “solutions.” Which were essentially third-party accessories compatible with Apple’s computers.
So the first two areas you saw when entering the store were labeled ‘Home’ and ‘Pro.’ To the right, there was ‘Home.’ Where customers could explore Apple’s consumer-level computers like the iMac and iBook. Then right across from it was the ‘Pro’ section. Displaying Apple’s most powerful and expensive computers like the Power Mac and Power Book. As well as pro accessories like the Cinema Display.
Now those two sections featured Apple’s entire product lineup but occupied only a quarter of the store. And that’s where the ‘solutions’ sections came in. There were four, labeled Music, Movies, Photos, and Kids. They took up the middle 50% of the store and featured third-party products that could be used with Apple’s computers. There were six digital cameras, six MP3 players, and six PDAs that customers could buy and plug into any of the Macs on display to see exactly how they worked.
The Kids section didn’t feature any products, but rather a wide selection of educational software and games that kids could sit and test out on the four available iMacs. At the back of the store, off to the side, was the Genius Bar. A concept that started quite small, featuring only five stools, but has grown quite a bit. Today, most Apple Stores dedicate their entire back section to a large Genius Bar designed to accommodate dozens of guests. But inside the original location, things were more modest. Genius Bars used to be equipped with a red landline telephone, that Geniuses could use to call Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino directly if someone had a problem they couldn’t figure out on their own.
Now opposite the Genius Bar, was a section called Etcetera, where you could find cables, adaptors, power supplies, paper, ink, and even printers and scanners. But the space at the very back of the store was the most unique. Because that’s where guests could find a theater. With a ten-foot rear projection screen that played commercials, demo videos, and iTunes visualizations. Now what’s interesting about the theater section is that Apple eventually removed them from all their stores by 2012. Opting instead for a larger Genius Bar and more tables to display their growing product line.
But in 2017 the theater concept was revived in the form of Today At Apple. Which introduced large screens and seating areas back into stores around the world to allow for educational sessions and presentations. The last section of the first Apple Store was at the center. An aisle that featured over three hundred titles of software from games to professional applications. Something that isn’t necessary today since the software can be conveniently downloaded over the internet. So that is what it felt like to step inside the first Apple Store!