Apple’s retail chief Angela Ahrendts has spent the past two years revamping the technology company’s retail stores, where it sells iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Watches. That’s no small business—there are nearly 500 Apple stores worldwide, and retail sales are responsible for some 18% of the company’s $233.7 billion in sales, amounting to $42 billion in yearly revenue.
But Ahrendts views the company’s newly redesigned retail outlets not just as stores, but as the company’s next big products, she explained at the Fortune Most Powerful Women conference in Laguna Niguel on Monday night, in her first public interview about Apple’s retail redesign. In fact, she and Apple view their stores as potential town squares within each of the cities they reside.
“The store is now the biggest product we produce and we have five new features [these include iPads, iPhones, Watches, Macbooks and Apple TVs.]. Accessories are avenues, and the huge digital screen in each store is the forum,” Ahrendts said.
By the end of this year, 95 stores will be fully redesigned with this vision, the first of which were the San Francisco Union Square location and the London Regent Street outpost. The community aspect to each store is key, Ahrendts said, with these town squares serving as educational centers. For example, next year, Apple stores will soon hold coding classes for children in Apple’s programming language, Swift.
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The new stores have also been holding what she calls “Teacher Tuesdays,” to help educate teachers on how to incorporate technology into their classrooms.
There’s a new team employed in the stores, called creative pros, who are solely available to teach customers skills such as how to take better pictures with their iPhone’s camera or how to use photography apps. They also help with downloading Apple Music, gaming and art apps. This group of employees is similar to those who run the newly redesigned Genius Grove, which is a customer service stand that fixes and troubleshoots Apple products.
Within Apple, Ahrendts added, the company no longer refers to the retail outlets as stores. Apple’s flagship San Francisco store is now known as Apple Union Square. Ahrendts’ own title at the company has changed: she’s now the senior vice president of Apple retail, compared to the previous title of “senior vice president of retail and online stores.”
Ahrendts also recalled how she was originally hired by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who approached her while she was chief executive of British fashion empire Burberry.
Cook was persistent, she explained, and during one of her trips to the U.S. for the Christmas holidays, she flew out to Cupertino to meet him. “I told him, ‘I’m not a techie,'” said Ahrendts. “And he said, ‘I think we have 10,000 of those, you are supposed to be here.'”
Ahrendts and Cook continued to talk, and she proposed that instead of her position only being in charge of retail, it would also include merging the retail business with online stores and integrating them to play a much bigger role in the communities of the cities where they operated. Cook was on board, and the seed was planted for Apple’s new retail vision, helmed by Ahrendts.
“Companies have a huge obligation right now, and the bigger the company, the bigger the obligation,” Ahrendts said. “We are thinking about what the community needs.”