J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson: What I learned building the Apple Store

“When I announced that I was leaving Apple to take the reins as CEO of J.C. Penney this month, the business press (and lots of others) began speculating about whether I could replicate the Apple Store’s success in such a dramatically different retail setting,” Ron Johnson writes for The Harvard Business Review. “One of the most common comments I heard was that the Apple Store succeeded because it carried Apple products and catered to the brand’s famously passionate customers. Well, yes, Apple products do pull people into stores. But you don’t need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment. You have to create a store that’s more than a store to people.”

“People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better,” Johnson writes. “That may sound hokey, but it’s true. The staff is exceptionally well trained, and they’re not on commission, so it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you’re happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Attribution: 9to5Mac. Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dan K.” for the heads up.]


  1. Uhhhhh… Yeah, but Ron, it also helps to have products people crave. You were real lucky to have hitched up with Apple. It’s not all clear that you’ll be able to turn around Penney’s.

    1. Uhhhhh… Yeah, but Figurative, it also helps to know that Ron was the one who turned Target into a nationally recognized leader in retail before joining Apple. Steve recruited him because of his amazing transformation of Target into something much nicer than a Kmart knockoff.

      1. Agreed… People can always get Apple products on the internet, delivered right to their homes, within a day or two. Getting people to come to the stores was HUGE.. that meant that people outside the Apple tent could come in off the street and check it out. We have Ron and Steve to thank for that. Ron’s a retail expert, let’s not slam him for not being a product guy.

        1. To be fair, Apple Stores was Jobs’ coherent vision, for which to be implemented Jobs needed someone exceptionally professional and capable. Ron was obviously great implementer and manager, but his both conceptual and in-details role was very limited.

          Now with JCPenny Ron can build his own sales system again, as he was doing in Target previously. He can incorporate his experience from both Target and Apple.

          1. It is similar to Michael Jackson hiring the best technical people in the industry to create his masterpieces. While without help of these professionals it would not be possible to do such works in the time it took, it was still Jackson’s composition and arrangements that united so many styles, harmonies and polyphony to make a piece.

            (Jackson was also similar to Jobs in the way how much perfectionist he was — he was spending years to complete each album, was never really satisfied with anything. People around were astonished how much attention to detail he had had, how many times he would want to redo the arrangement or re-record the voice when they already were not really noticing the difference.)

    2. Don’t forget that Apple wasn’t in that position when Ron joined them. Their market share for the Mac was around 2% and falling. Apple Retail was a major factor in turning Apple around.


      1. I have never thought of Target as I think of Apple Stores. What is it that whats-her-name says……..”lipstick on a pig”? Well that would be Target, don’t you think? Yeah, it’s better than it would be without the lipstick….but it’s still a pig.

  2. OMG. I know what we need. Our own personal sales associate at JCP… For shoes and mens cloths I go see Joe, by appointment. He will assist me with everything. For jewelry, I make an appointment with Sarah, she also know’s my wife’s perfume and will have that waiting for me while I shop for my for her birthday. On file, they will have my weight and measurements, and that of my family family members, so that I pick the best fitting sweater.

    1. Years ago, my wife and I were visiting Virginia and went to Nordstrom at Tyson’s Corner shop for shoes. It happened that the ones my wife liked didn’t have her size. The sales offered to order them for us and asked us to come back the next day. But since we were leaving the next morning, we couldn’t. He than asked us where we stayed and offered to bring the shoes to us to try on that evening. We were staying at the Embassy Suites just a few blocks away so we gave him the room number although we didn’t think he would come. But around 9:00 pm, he came with two big shopping bags. He bought with him probably 10 pairs of shoes, two pairs of each style that my wife has shown interest and the ones that they didn’t have the right size. He stayed for an hour letting my wife try on all different styles. She finally bought two pairs.

      What I am saying is high level personal service does exist. I will be looking forward to see what Ron Johnson will bring to JCP.

      1. A few years ago I brought back to Nordstrom’s a pair of costly Italian shoes which, after 2 years of wear, had a few stitches which were worn. I received a new pair of Ferragamo shoes. Penneys is a good store, which can get better. Go Ron.

    1. @ SamLowry
      Hahahaha, that’s good! Yeah if Microsoft REALLY wants to make their customers happy they need to redirect them to the Apple Stores posthaste! “I’m sorry all we have is the usual PC crap you can get anywhere – the really special stuff is across the way at the Apple Store. I don’t know what all the fuss is about but golly people are sure excited there.”

  3. “…it makes no difference to them if they sell you an expensive new computer or help you make your old one run better so you’re happy with it. Their job is to figure out what you need and help you get it, even if it’s a product Apple doesn’t carry”

    Apple, Toyota, Honda, and Eaton’s have followed this ideology. Apple, Toyota and Honda had a product that drew people in, but Eaton’s did not and where are they today? Gone. The devil is in the details and every successful business has a niche product to draw in the masses (Sears/Craftsman, Zellers/Martha Stewart, Toyota/Reliability, Honda/Performance).

    Fly in the ointment? He said people are willing to pay “premium prices”.
    Yeah, maybe for premium products and great service!
    Unfortunately, JC Penney today means cheap clothes, which is hardly a niche, and I seriously doubt we’re about to witness the rebirth of the 1960s when a seamstress was there to measure, alter, and fit your discount Jeans on the spot *for free*.

    1. Sears is the bottom of the barrel for quality these days. Their Kennmore appliances used to be great. Now they break down frequently or as with my sister’s oven the outside of the oven door fell off a 3 year old oven. And don’t ever use Sear’s kitchen remodeling service, they hire low end clueless workers cheap who wire up fire hazards and ignore code. I know legitimate plumbers and contractors who have had to go in after and make things right after Sears remodeled. I know one person who sued it was so bad (Sears settled outside court for bad wiring, damaged cupboards, etc.).

  4. I’m familiar with the inner workings of JCP corporate and let me tell you, the first order of business Ron will have to tackle is allowing Macs in the front door for a change. Their entire design department is slumming it with Windows only crap design software on Win2K! They haven’t even upgraded to XP yet!!
    Once he gets the ship in order then he can focus next on product itself. JCP is king of the chargeback so if a vendor delivers a 10000 piece order so much as an hour late the entire shipment is rejected and the vendor has to pay JCP for the inconvenience. So the vendors end up cutting corners in product quality to make up for the lost revenue.
    Go Ron, slap on some lipstick and give us all a good squeal.

  5. Real artists ship. Big talkers followed Rubinstein to Palm/HP. Dear Ron, we’ll see your genius output from the 4Q results in 2014, with some early signs of positive turn around late next year. Please plan ahead for the bad economy and other possible excuses, as Jobs & co. had countered several quarters of recessions with explosive growths.

    Finally, JC Penny will mostly sell products that are also available from other retailers. The possible differentiation will come from shopping experience. Hard to create a monopoly on that as any successful pattern will be copied by others. Apple sells mostly Apple products; great service is part of the package and is now expected. They started and has stayed within their niche monopoly.

    Good luck; and maybe concentrating more on your own strategies and goals going forward would be better than talking about Apple and how easy it is to mimic their retail success. Save it for your board members with pie charts.

  6. Hope it works out for him. Went to JCP today for a pair of Levi’s and was so sick of the place after about 15 minutes, I went to Belk next door and paid $15 more for the same pair of dungarees.

    JCP is in bad shape.

  7. Mr. Ron, You are right on track, thank you, thank you! Dinosaurs have been laying eggs at Penney’s for a long time and your expertise is very much needed. Kudos to you and your staff.

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