Gazing from the sidewalk at the glistening Apple Store on University Avenue in Palo Alto, communications coach and author Carmine Gallo smiles, as if he's in on a little secret. And as the guy who studied these stores inside and out while researching his book "The Apple Experience," he kind of is.
By spending hundreds of hours examining Apple stores firsthand, while interviewing scores of people who have studied the salesmanship honed by this iconic tech giant, Gallo gained keen insights into the company's evolution as the most profitable per-square-foot retailer on the planet.
We met him one morning this week outside the Apple Store that opened in 2012 just down the street from what used to be Apple's flagship location, a place that co-founder Steve Jobs would often visit. We asked Gallo to share some of his insights into Apple stores, establishments that for many rival Disneyland as the "Happiest Place on Earth."
Here are his comments, edited for space and clarity:
Q What was it that first piqued your interest in Apple and the unique customer experience you say it creates inside its stores?
A I wrote a book called "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs," whom I still consider to be the world's greatest storyteller. One day, I got an anonymous call from an Apple Store manager who said they'd been ordering copies of my book for their staff. And I said, "Why? It's a presentation book,"and he said, "Come in to an Apple Store, look around -- the sales floor is our stage, and we all have to tell the story behind the products."
Q So what is "the Apple experience?"What's it look, sound and feel like?
A The Apple experience, above all, is about enriching lives. If you walk into any Apple Store, each of the employees carries a card and on that card there are only two words on the front: "enriching lives."So what they're taught is to stop selling stuff and start enriching people's lives. And when you do that, the experience is much different than you get anywhere else. And it starts from the minute you walk into the store and by the way you're greeted.
Q Taking the Apple Store as the embodiment of that experience, walk us through the process. (We now step inside the front door). What's the first thing you notice about this place?
A The Apple stores are all similar. One of the things they started with was the uncluttered, clean look. You'll also notice someone will greet you the minute you walk in. That was an innovation in retail in 2001. And that's also the first of five steps that every employee is trained to do with each customer.
Q What are those five steps? (We walk around the inside of the store.)
A The acronym spells out the word "Apple."A is "approach with a personalized, warm welcome." So as soon as you walk in, someone will greet you and say hello. If you're wearing, say, a Giants T-shirt, they might say, "Go Giants!"That's a customized welcome. P is "probe politely to understand the customer's needs." That means they'll ask you a series of questions so they can best fit you with the right product. Next is P for "present a solution for the consumer to take home today."That means something like, "If you're not ready to buy something, that's OK; we have free classes here where you can still learn all the cool things you can do with an iPad."
L is "listen for and resolve any concerns."You might say, "I've been using a PC and I'm concerned about transferring everything to a Mac."And they'll say, "Don't worry, we'll do it for you for free."
Finally, E is "end with a fond farewell and an invitation to return."
Q So what do you see as we move around the store?
A All of these devices, these iPads and MacBooks, are tilted at the same angle. Employees are supposed to tilt them like that every morning, and they even use an iPhone app that's a level to help them get the same angle on each one. It's that attention to detail you see all over the store: The cords are wrapped up and hidden, so that everything is clean and welcoming. Employees are supposed to be constantly wiping down the devices to make them look clean.
One of the big innovations with the first stores was that everything was turned on and working. You could walk into a store and you could see, touch and play with these devices and no one would kick you out. Also this is a noncommissioned sales floor, so the employees can spend as much time as they like with you so that you'll buy the right product for your individual needs.
Q Where did Apple, and Steve Jobs in particular, find the inspiration for these stores?
A The Apple Store was directly inspired by the Ritz-Carlton, because Steve Jobs didn't ask his team, "How do we build a store?"He asked, "How do we reinvent the store?"And his second question was: "Who offers the best customer experience?"His team went off and then came back and said "The Ritz-Carlton."
And that's why when you walk into an Apple Store, you won't find any cashiers, but you'll find a concierge. That's also why if you go to the back of an Apple Store, you'll find a bar. It doesn't dispense alcohol; it dispenses advice. The Genius Bar is a direct inspiration from the bar at the back of a Ritz-Carlton hotel. That was the genius of Steve Jobs; he'd look outside his field for inspiration.
(As we spoke, the store manager approached and politely asked us to leave, saying interviews were not allowed on the premises.)
Q What do you like most about the Apple Store experience?
A The One to One program, which offers classes on how to use Apple products. And you can take as many classes as you like for a whole year for only $99.
Q And your least favorite thing?
A The crowds.
Contact Patrick May at email@example.com or 408-920-5689.
Birthdate: July 26, 1965
Birthplace: San Jose
Position: President, founder, Gallo Communications Group
Previous Jobs: Television anchor, vice president of media for a global PR firm
Education: Elementary school at St. Francis Cabrini in San Jose. Attended high school at Bellarmine College Prep. Bachelor of Arts in political science and communication from UCLA. Master's degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern.
Family: He and his wife, Vanessa, have two daughters who attend St. Michael's School in Livermore.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CARMINE GALLO
1. He spent much of his childhood at the Cambrian Branch Library and still reads a book a week.
2. One of his most memorable experiences was enjoying dinner with astronaut Neil Armstrong along with Carmine's brother, Dr. Tino Gallo, and a small group of San Jose friends.
3. He has been featured on ABC's "20/20," CNBC, and in The Wall Street Journal. He has delivered keynote speeches around the world, including Tokyo, Paris, Vienna, Milan and Malta.
4. He has written seven books that have been translated into more than two dozen languages.
5. He has a passion for golf and plays regularly at Wente Vineyards in Livermore. He's often joined by his brother and his nephews, all of whom are graduates of San Jose's Bellarmine high school.