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What it was like to create the Apple Store, according to the man who helped Steve Jobs build it

Business Insider: Apple has succeeded in a space where few of its competitors have — retail.

Apple’s brick-and-mortar stores have become a staple of the shopping experience for iPhone, Mac, and now Apple Watch shoppers.

The company has managed to nail retail in a way that others haven’t, as statistics comparing traffic in Apple Stores vs. Microsoft Stores during the holiday shopping season in years past have clearly shown.

Ron Johnson, Apple’s former retail chief that has since served as the CEO of JCPenny and now has his own tech concierge startup, says creating the Apple Store wasn’t hard. This was mostly because Jobs had such a strong vision for what he wanted the Apple Store to be.

“It wasn’t hard at all actually, because Steve Jobs was such a supporter of our store strategy,” Johnson said in an interview with Business Insider. “For Apple to succeed, we had to re-think the entire store experience. So we built stores with these crazy things like Genius Bars and theaters and we located stores in high traffic locations, which had never been done before for these kinds of products. But Steve was such a strong supporter so it really wasn’t hard.”

Jobs believed that the Apple Store was crucial in creating the high-quality customer experience that accompanies Apple’s products, according to Johnson.

“Steve always cared about the customer,” he said. “He designed products for himself that he would love, so he thought about the whole experience. He knew there was something a store could do that you couldn’t just do through software, so that’s why he wanted to build the stores.”

Creating the Apple Store wasn’t the difficult part, according to Johnson — it was watching it succeed.

“What was hard was the patience it took to really give people time to understand the stores,” he said.

The Apple Store didn’t really catch on until about three or four years after its launch, which was around the time the iPod was released, Johnson said.

“The challenge was the patience to stick with it,” he said. “Most people don’t have patience. Board members don’t have patience. You’ve got to have a clear vision. But then you’ve got to recognize it’s going to take time to succeed.”

For Johnson, this was the hardest part about building the Apple Store. It takes time, and Johnson said that creating a retail chain is a minimum investment of 10 years. That’s why it’s so important to think about how customers are going to want to buy things a decade down the road, he explained.

“Most things seem like overnight successes,” he said. “But they weren’t.”

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