What was to become the world’s most successful chain of retail stores – generating more revenue per square foot than even luxury stores like Harrods and Tiffany & Co. – might have been opened as long ago as 1976, if Apple had agreed a proposal made by Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna.

CNET reports that he made the proposal in December 1976, after meeting with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Jobs and McKenna had dinner and talked about what the future of Apple could look like, and McKenna signed on. Eventually McKenna drafted an eight-page marketing plan in December 1976. Lo and behold, what was written under “Distribution Channels”? Apple stores.

The plan would have seen the first stores in office parks, aimed primarily at business customers. Apple decided not to go ahead at the time, and it would be 25 years later, in 2001, that the first Apple Store opened.

As astonishing as it seems now, that decision was viewed as a risky gambleBusinessWeek ran a piece called Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work, and TheStreet described the move as “desperate” in a story headlined Apple’s Scrapping the Bottom of the Barrel.

That’s not to say that the stores, back in 1976, would have been successful especially through the late 80s and 90s with the lack of taste at the top.

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6 Responses to “Apple almost began its Retail Store experiment 25 years earlier”

  1. Do a little research on Apple Marketing Centers. I worked at one, for a brief period during college (~1991/1992), in Philadelphia. Basically was just as is described, an “Apple Store” for businesses. We held seminars, and provided pre-sales technical information/support. I remember seeing the PowerBook unveiled there (and still have the pre-release docs somewhere), as well as later taking a Network Server AIX class there (hrmmm, or was that in Cherry Hill, NJ?) while I worked for a reseller.


    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Interesting. I’m assuming that was all appointment-based, that a business customer couldn’t just walk in off the street?


      • I didn’t work the sales end, so that is likely. It was a pretty large “facility”, in one of the highrises downtown. I’d have to go back through my stuff (dig out the boxes ;) to get an address. But it wouldn’t have surprised me that Apple Sales wouldn’t have promoted “dropping by”, I know they had machines set up in “business setting” demos (like a Quadra and a LaserWriter running PageMaker, etc).


      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        PageMaker … that brings back memories :-)


  2. Those “Apple stores won’t work” articles from 10 years ago were a fun read. As much as I’d like to imagine those people feeling incredibly stupid right now I would have said the exact same thing.

    But then again I don’t claim to be an analyst.


  3. Marklewood at Serenity Lodge says:

    Given the drastic changes in economic ups and downs, operating systems and hardware, it may be hindsight only to think Apple Stores would have made a go of it. As it is, they seem to have been opened at just the right time. I do recall seeing Apple computers at resellers, years before any Apple Store opened. And here in Raleigh, I recall a Mac store, or shop of some sort that repaired and sold Apple computers long before the current 2 Apple stores opened here.