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Ron Johnson’s latest act? Online retail with a side of personal service

August 4, 2015, 3:19 PM UTC
Ron Johnson at Enjoy's Bay Area offices
Ron Johnson at Enjoy's Bay Area offices
Courtesy of Enjoy

An online consumer tech shopping site with the name Enjoy sounds like a bad joke. Has anyone ever enjoyed buying—and then installing—technology?

As the proud and oft-frustrated owner of three iPads, two flat-screen TVs, one Dell PC, two Macbook Airs, and one Sonos sound system, I am fairly confident that the answer is a resounding NO. Our devices do work—sorta kinda—but I am probably using about 5% of all of that technology to its full potential, both because I have no clue how to take full advantage of these gadgets and the idea of figuring it out is both daunting and time consuming.

Enter Enjoy, the three-month old startup founded by Ron Johnson, famous for his long tenure as the head of Apple (AAPL) Retail stores and infamous for his short-lived stint at the helm of JC Penney (JCP). (Fortune covered this saga extensively; see How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying). Funded by the likes of Kleiner Perkins and Andreessen Horowitz, Enjoy takes the high-touch sales model of the Genius Bar and brings it to your home. When you buy a piece of consumer technology—anything from a phone to a TV to a PC—you pay full retail, but what you get for free along with the product is a real, living, breathing, human being to help you set it up. (Alternatively, you can pay $99 for one hour of tech service on a product of your choice).

That’s what I did, and, probably because Enjoy is in startup mode, I promptly had not one, but two actual people at my door at 7 p.m. one night: Giovanni and Cab, a trainee who also managed to hypnotize our dog (no extra charge).

Although it’s easy to envision Enjoy as Uber-meets-Geek Squad, Enjoy has a few important distinctions. First, the technicians are not freelancers but employees, with benefits, and they don’t work on commission, following Johnson’s experience with Apple Geniuses. “Our product is a person,” says Johnson. “Uber’s product is a ride. And if your product is a person, you want to own the experience.”

Those products are carefully vetted before they are hired; although Enjoy is only available in two markets right now—New York and San Francisco—Johnson says 10,000 people have applied for just 65 slots. (Johnson was famous for his deep involvement in the hiring process for Apple Retail employees). I opted for the $99 an hour service, and requested help with the PC I had purchased for my kids, which they claimed “didn’t work” (the actual goal: get them and their sticky fingers off my MacBook Air). I thought Giovanni could show us a few things and then connect a printer.

It turned out that my kids were right. The PC did not, in fact, work—at all—because the kids had accidentally downloaded all kinds of malware. Giovanni figured this out right away, but it turned out that getting rid of it would require more than the one hour of service I’d paid for. No matter; he took the time needed to fix it (at least 90 minutes), taught us how to create new user accounts, and, a day later, followed up with an email to ask how things were going. He also included a link to the connector I needed to buy in order to get the printer working.

In short, Giovanni was kind, helpful, and open to all kinds of dumb questions—a tech geek who actually could communicate. He was kind of like the Genius Bar—if you had it to yourself and if the appointment started on time. Which is exactly the point. When I told my aunt about the experience, she said, “I need that! Are they in Buffalo?” (No.)

The larger question, of course, is whether Enjoy will get the traction it needs to make money. Johnson is—and I say this with true experience in the matter (see Retail’s New Radical)—a born salesman for whom everything is always going better than imagined. He won’t disclose how much he has spent or how many customers the company has, saying he’s concentrating on getting the experience right first. “We’re not in a hurry,” he says. “All we care about is delivering quality.”

Enjoy doesn’t seem to be burning up NYC—I had no problem scoring an appointment each time I tried—but that may be by design. The company has, however, obtained a button on AT&T’s (T) checkout page in which, after buying your phone or tablet, you can opt for an Enjoy visit. Is that enough to make up for the fact that currently no Apple products can be purchased on the site? Johnson hints that that situation won’t last forever. “Stay tuned,” he says. We will.