Apple boss tries to gut retail operation

One of the smartest decisions that Apple made over the last decade was to open retail stores worldwide, giving users a chance to get some hands on time with its products. One of the worst decisions came recently when the new vice president of retail John Browett decided to gut the operation. Luckily, he admitted his mistake.

Browett, who took over the post from Steve Jobs’ hand-picked head of retail Ron Johnson earlier this year, apparently thought one of the best run retail operations in the world was “too bloated,” according to a detailed post on ifoAppleStore.com.

“Browett’s decision reportedly came despite strongly-worded advice from Retail segment veterans that reducing personnel ahead of the annual Back-to-School promotion and the September introduction of the iPhone 5 could create a customer service catastrophe,” reads the report. “Browett disagreed with his staff, and said the chain needs to learn to run ‘leaner’ in all areas, even if the customer experience is compromised.”

This has the stench of a man looking to make a name for himself, not someone that’s doing what’s best for Apple or more importantly, its customers. To take one of the most heralded retail experiences in the world and gut it, stripping it of everything that makes an Apple store what it is, just doesn’t make sense.

It seems to me that Browett is trying to make Apple retail just like every other retail store on the planet. A few employees trying to satisfy an ever growing consumer base. That formula doesn’t work. It may save a few dollars in the short term and Browett may look like a hero on paper, but in reality the whole company would suffer the consequences.

With $100 billion or so in the bank, the last thing Browett needs to worry about is cost cutting measures to save a few pennies here and there. Instead he should be focused on how to best serve the surge of consumers that will take to the stores in the coming months to buy new Apple products.

I tried to contact Apple’s retail PR team for the last couple of days hoping to get to the bottom of the reports of staff cuts, but so far no reply. [Apple did call me back shortly after this story posted.]

Apple did however give a statement to Dow Jones, admitting its mistake. “Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed,” said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman. “Our employees are our most important asset and the ones who provide the world-class service our customers deserve.”

Let’s hope Apple doesn’t let Browett make any more crazy decisions.

Update: I noted that Apple PR did call me back shortly after the story posted.



  • fredfx

    They should just replace him. Sounds like a loose canon to me.

    • http://twitter.com/colinmat Colin Mattson

      Yep, cut him loose. Apple’s business IS customer experience.

      If Browett misses the bad old days of too many customers and not enough staff, I’ll just quit shopping at Apple Retail again. Earlier this summer I was in and out of a packed mall Apple Store within 5 minutes, and with three different specialists offering assistance.

      Not only was that inconceivable even a year ago (hour long standing-around marathons were the norm), but I can’t get that experience at a competitor. He’d be stupid to ruin that.

      • kvanh

        yeah, they saved my butt in Philadelphia. Needed a VGA adapter for iPad for a presentation in an hour. They aren’t on the floor, so I had to ask someone and they had to call to the store room and have it brought it down.

        Place was absolutely packed but someone was available and got me an adapter in a few minutes, then walked me through paying for it on my phone. Great experience and fast so I made my presentation.

  • Greg

    I’d bet Jobs would never have let that happen. He would have shot that idea down so fast it would have made Browett’s head spin.

    This trend is a little disturbing, Apple’s vision seems clouded at the moment. Their laser-sharp focus is getting blurry.

    • Dbilling

      Jobs would have fired him.

      • franksspam

        Jobs wouldn’t have hired him. The reports I was reading about this guy when they hired him had me worried. It just sounded like they were picking an average or slightly above average executive. They are Apple, the most profitable company in the world. They can pick ANYONE and they chose him?

    • kibbles

      ah yes, the obligatory “Jobs would never have let that happen…” post. despite evidence of all sorts of crazy stuff jobs did in fact let happen.

      • franksspam

        Please name the crappy top level executive that Jobs hired. In fact, the legacy of the team he created is the strongest part of what Jobs did at Apple.

        • http://twitter.com/utnow UTNow

          You mean like John Sculley? Yeah… it happens.

  • http://f1archives.com/ Gregz0r

    Jeez. I hope Tim Cook kicks his ass into gear. Dixons, PC World etc suck like a Dyson, here in the UK.

    • def4

      Tim Cook’s job is not to babysit the other executives. If Browett can’t handle his responsibilities he should be replaced with someone who can.

      • Adriano Geletes

        He’s not talking about babysitting, he is talking about kicking & thats exactly Tim Cook’s job as CEO of Apple!

      • Guest

        Anyone who’s ever been to a Dixons or PC World in the UK could see that hiring this guy was a huge gamble – they have crap selections, crap layouts, crappy service and try to upsell you overpriced extras (insurance, HDMI cables at £40!!!) at every opportunity. And it’s not even like Dixons has been making any money either.

    • http://twitter.com/jgpmolloy John Molloy

      Dyson are a great company. I especially like how they are coping with the clones through advertising here in the US. Apple should have taken that approach rather than the suing. However I am not sure how well it is working. Apple did try that approach with the “If you haven’t got an iPhone…” campaign or words to that effect.

      • http://f1archives.com/ Gregz0r

        I didn’t mean Dyson sucked, I meant that because it’s a vacuum cleaner, A Dyson ‘sucks’….

        Nevermind. :P

      • http://twitter.com/colinmat Colin Mattson

        Dyson’s having a classy go at “we do it better,” but they also don’t have many other options: The patents for their basic technology have expired. They previously did sue (and successfully got an injunction against) Hoover, but the clones on the market today are using and improving upon designs that have aged into the public domain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159712310 Randy Michael

    At first when I read accusations against this Browett fella on macrumors, I thought it was untrue, but seeing this now? This guy must be out of his mind.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VZERNW7EO4NX4Q35BJIX5LR25E Miguel!

    Fire this idiot.

    • Adriano Geletes

      My thoughts!

      Please fire this idiot who does not understand Apple at all!

  • TobyS95

    Went to Indianapolis Apple Store a couple of weeks ago. Place was crowded, but not with happy customers. They are past the point of being too crowded. I travel for business and see this in Twelve Oaks (MI), many of the MN locations, and Green Hills (TN). The TN location was so busy, I didn’t even go in even though I hadn’t seen the Retina Macbooks yet. Really wanted to see AAPL take some of that dividend money and fix the stores.

    With such a public apology from such a private company, Browett is about to get Pappermastered.

    • Obsidian71

      LOL first person I thought about was Papermaster. Sometimes Apple isn’t the right company for some people.

      After Ron Johnson (who was not perfect but good) I expected the next person to be a visionary. Browett came in with a lot of head scratching from many that weren’t too enthused about his then current performance at Dixons. Now after this, he’s given every naysayer ammunition.

      Apple needs to combat the insanity that is in the stores now. People are starting to avoid the stores on the weekends because it’s just too crazy inside.

      • http://www.aichon.com Brad

        To quote Yogi Berra, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

        If only we all had that problem with our businesses. ;)

    • bobrk

      Our local store (Valley Fair in Santa Clara, CA) is ALWAYS packed, but I’ve always been approached by an employee to see if I needed help.

    • Eric

      Indy desperately needs a bigger/newer store – theirs is one of the Apple Garamond-era stores, but I think they haven’t figured our where to expand to (yet). I’m sure it also does much better than the South Bend, Indiana one, even though that store is about double the size (and newer). Often it’s like a mosh pit to try to get help or you have to go out of your way to find someone who isn’t already helping someone else. That being said, there are some fine folks at Keystone…just give ‘em more space!

  • Sebastian Atwater

    A company with an immense wealth of cash and turning in massive profitability quarter after quarter definitely needs some changing.

    Yeah, this absolutely sounds like someone just trying to leave their mark. What a terrible decision. I hope this isn’t a preview of things to come down the road.

  • http://bobmartens.net/ Bob Martens

    Only option that Tim Cook has, really, is to fire him and get in someone else and bring the retail side of things closer into the rest of Apple. So much valuable information is there, not to mention the personal relationships with actual consumers, that messing it up is not an option.

  • mr_lizard13

    This guy needs to go. If you can’t trust your own head of retail, you need a new head of retail.

    I almost fell off my chair when I first read that Browett had been hired by Tim. His legacy here is the UK is the Dixon’s group, trading as Curry’s and PC World. These stores are famous here for their awful customer service and terrible shopping experiences.

    How Browett convinced Cook that slashing and burning staff hours was a good idea is beyond me. Part of me worries that Tim isn’t as hands-on as Steve, and isn’t as fussed with the details. I certainly hope I’m wrong on that point.

    Browett though is clearly way, way out of his league. How on earth is he going to earn back the trust of his staff now?

  • http://www.johncblandii.com John C. Bland II

    Wow, at the cost of customer experience. He clearly doesn’t get Apple!

  • cronked

    Wow, I’m not happy with this Browett guy. Apple retail stores already have the highest sales per square foot by a long shot. Why would this guy try to save a few bucks? This isn’t Best Buy, it’s Apple.

  • http://www.thegraphicmac.com/ JimD

    I don’t even know how this guy got hired to begin with. From all I’ve read, the Dixons chain was a disaster under his watch. Not exactly the “surround yourself with the very best people” mantra Apple normally operates under.

  • Markholoubek

    My bet is that Browett is a mole. Follow the money.

  • chjode

    He’ll be gone within 6 months. They’ll announce his replacement a day or two after Apple announces record sales for the holiday season and no one will notice.

    • Adriano Geletes

      Hopefully!

    • http://www.facebook.com/larissa.stevenson Larissa Stevenson

      almost…

      • chjode

        I was close!

  • gjgustav

    I don’t think he was hired for no reason, but I’m guessing Cook gives Apple’s execs a little more leeway than before. Maybe a little too much at times, but hey, at least it was corrected before it was too late.

  • Adriano Geletes

    “Making these changes was a mistake and the changes are being reversed,” said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman. Browett is going to loose his job otherwise they wouldn’t have reversed his decision! I would like to apply for his job ,)

    • Jim H

      No one is going to hire someone who spells “lose” as “loose” and you only have one eye too! : )

      Okay, but seriously. Apples products are premium products, Apple customers expect premium service.

      • Adriano Geletes

        How do you know that I just have one eye? ; )

  • No

    No. I think story is more complicated. Retail employees started demanding more pay and even threaten unionization. This was typical corporation move to undermine that with little threat and uncertainity so the retail employees don’t get a big head.

    I say implement the Stack Ranking on their ass and they will get in line just like Microsoft employees. hehehe

    • Jim H

      Pure hyperbole.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Vera-Comment/100002347335999 Vera Comment

    “Browett disagreed with his staff, and said the chain needs to learn to run ‘leaner’ in all areas, even if the customer experience is compromised.”

    …for a second I thought this was The Onion

    • lucascott

      That’s a misquote. The compromised part was written by a blogger.

  • Charlie

    I’m sure that no one will agree with me, but I HATE going to the Apple store to buy anything. I LOVE going to the Apple store to look at products but refuse to buy anything there. I go there to look because I know that no employee will ever bother to try to sell me something; same reason I never buy anything there. I make all my big purchases online even if I pay extra for shipping and will go to a nearby Fry’s Electronics or even Best Buy to get small things like replacement headphones for my iPhone 4S.

    The whole Apple Store experience just pisses me off

    • Pacomius

      Let me get this straight, you LOVE going to the Apple store to look at products but the “whole Apple Store experience just pisses [you] off”?

      Are you some sort of retail masochist? Must you be hassled to purchase something before you will acquiesce to do so?

      • Charlie

        First I said no one will agree with me and, no, I don’t like being hassled. The stores are so packed you can’t get service when you need it. If I’m just looking I know I can go in and check out the new Retina’s and no one will bother me. If I wanted to buy one I have to wait forever to get service. Forget that. Order it online.

        So I frequently get frustrated and pissed off.

        Also, this is a relatively new situation – in the last few years, say beginning around the time of the last big remodel. Before that I could go in, find people if I needed them, there was a fricking cash register so I could pick up a small item and buy it easily without dicking around with the Store App that often doesn’t work.

  • http://twitter.com/apple4ever Matthew Butch

    I think the problem is not ENOUGH people, on top of the lack of a register.

  • Phil Brown

    Firing this guy saves money and prevents him from doing moronic stuff like this. Big mistake to hire him in the first place in my opinion. I’m guessing this reversal is nothing to do with him, but comes from above.

  • Alshie

    As a few others have said, this won’t surprise anyone from the UK. Dixons had appealing customer service and it was a surprise that Apple would employ anyone responsible for that mess.

    • hannahjs

      You meant appalling, right—not appealing?

      • Alshie

        Ugh, yes I did. Apologies.

  • http://www.appleoutsider.de/ AppleOutsider.de – Sebastian P

    I complete agree with this post. Well put.

  • Michael Long

    Fire him. Send a message that what may pass for service at other retail chains won’t fly at Apple.

  • hannahjs

    Tim Cook—you hired this man, and didn’t put him through Apple University? Apple is not just another company, as Browett seems to think—it’s a, well, almost a religion.

  • http://twitter.com/pqoneil Patrick O’Neil

    As a former Apple retail employee I was shocked by this news when it first broke. I asked some former co-workers and they confirmed that there had been cut backs.

    I agree, with the other comments. This guy should go.

    I was always impressed with the videos the retail staff was shown of Ron Johnson and by him the few times he came into the store I worked at. He truly believed that the stores where there to serve the customer and help them get what they need. He knew that if the employees focused on helping the customer that the sales would flow.

    The management at the stores embraced this idea as well, so it is no shock to hear that there was push back from those in the retail department at Apple. It didn’t make sense to me when they brought in an outsider to begin with. Get rid of him and promote someone internally that understands the system.

  • Anonymous S. Coward

    So, when Apple executives approved the craptacular, Best Buy-esque “Genius” ads that ran recently promoting the Apple Stores, they likely also knew of the plans to scale back the customer service experience at the stores. WTF. Those ads now look even worse to me because they indicate Apple executives basically knew they were lying about the whole premise on which those commercials were based. “We know the store staff will probably be less happy and helpful with these changes to staffing, so let’s make a crappy ad that gives the stupid public just the opposite idea about what they can expect from our store staff.” They were deliberately promoting the staff of the Apple Stores while planning to cutting them.

    I didn’t think the idea of the stores were to super efficient, I thought they were to provide a great experience to finding out about and buying great products. Someone at Apple is trying to make the company forget about the “great.” Probably someone who doesn’t really know what it takes to make it great, because they never did it at any other place they’ve been.

    I understand why successful companies bring in new people from outside the company – at times. But I’m sure Apple had people experienced in what made the Apple Stores great already there working for years alongside Johnson. It’s like instead of hiring Cook as CEO they looked outside of Apple and hired a Jack Welch wannabe.

  • Sanningskommissionen

    Dixons owns Pixmania – a french customer contempting company. They sell things that do not work and then make it almost impossible to get a refund. Dixons owns Elgiganten – the worst electronics and appliances chain in Sweden. Rude and lying personnel, with no business ethics at all.

  • Drummerboy

    Check out the “theater” in San Francisco. Oh wait what theater? One more place this is effecting the community that was built there.

  • http://twitter.com/ScottGjerdingen Scott Gjerdingen

    I think this guy is better suited for a job at wal*mart.

  • http://www.thegraphicmac.com/ JimD

    If anything, Apple needs to double the amount of staff. Trying to get any help, or heaven forbid purchase something, is virtually impossible anymore.

    • lucascott

      Not if it means hiring even more pants belted under their butts lazy ass kids. All the stores in my area are full of them, hanging out and ignoring the customers

  • Skimontana

    Is it possible this was driven by Cook but Browett gets the black eye? I don’t say this with any knowledge. I do say this from a gut level worry. Cook is a operations and numbers guy, and the primary job of the numbers (and operations) crowd is to cut costs. I came to understand that the key to apple’s success was that a product guy, Jobs, was making the final decisions. Now?

  • Alton Higgins

    As the old saying goes, “You can’t cure stupid.” Give him a big severance package, because that’s what you do when executives fail, then send him packing.

  • Scott Rose

    John Browett is one of the more disgusting human beings on the planet. Every retail operation he has ever touched has turned to sh*t in his hands.

    And yet, here we have Tim Cook hiring this guy. What in the world is Tim Cook thinking?

    Welcome to post-Steve Apple, folks!

    The magic is gone.

  • NJA

    Maybe the best thing Apple could do is to fire Browett.

  • http://twitter.com/logorrhoea Kenneth Yau

    Anyone in the UK could have told Apple that hiring a Dixons man was bad move. They’re a byword for appalling unknowledgeable customer service and the antithesis of the Apple retail experience.

    Browett needs to be given his marching orders as does whoever was involved in recruiting him.

  • http://www.thenetworkgarden.com hypermark

    Isn’t the Apple Way all about delivering the ‘composite whole’ better than anyone else can? This type of thinking smacks of the silo’d business unit ethos that screws up most companies (Yahoo, Microsoft, HP, etc.).

    First real organizational culture test for Tim Cook, who I trust will make the right call.

  • Hermeneut

    As a former Dixons UK customer, I balked when this clown was hired. Apple will regret his appointment, if it hasn’t already. The world’s retail sector is trying to emulate Apple. Under Browett, Apple is emulating Dixons, with poorly trained, poorly educated, cheap staff.

  • http://facebook.com/dudezombieswhoa dporter6

    Fire this guy. I love the Apple Stores (used to work in one as a Mac Genius for over three years), and I cannot IMAGINE doing more work than those people already do with fewer resources.

    If the Apple stores start to resemble other, crappy experiences, they’ll at least lose me as a customer.

  • http://twitter.com/Mael_au Mal Bakker

    Bozo.

    Disagrees with his staff, all of who have had more experience in the Apple retail ecosystem, pushes ahead and his idea is a total failure.

    There is no way this man can lead this department, no one is going to trust his judgement. He has shown his hand and it is totally at odds with what Apple retail stands for.

    Time for him to go.

  • http://twitter.com/Alex_Manchester Alex Manchester

    It should be noted that when Browett was appointed there were a lot of people, particularly UK people, questioning the decision because he came from companies and retail stores where the customer experience is WOEFUL. At the time the responses were ‘Tim Cook knows what he’s doing better than you do’. Then you see something like this happening…

  • Eric

    They make more per square foot than any other retail store on the planet. And this bozo thinks he’s going to fix it? All he seems to want to do is destroy Apple like he did the last employer he worked for. Who’s nephew is he that he got this job? Because Apple doesn’t make these Scully-level bone-headed mistakes any more!

    Or so we hoped.

  • Beefster

    The folly of taking on someone who used to run Dixons and PC World in the UK, chains that no semi-knowledgable tech fan would ever patronise.

  • http://twitter.com/GeorgeOu George Ou

    Shrinking staff before the iPhone 5 and iPad Mini launch? Is this guy out of his mind?

  • Apple staffer

    Morale is at an all time low in our store- roster changes were made overnight with no consultation- part-timers found themselves going from 26 to 12 hours a week. We have seen many part time staff resignations in the last week, as our managers declined to tell us how long this situation will continue. Probably the biggest disappointment was the method that the changes were made- there were no announcements or consultation. The staff at our Apple store feel mightily betrayed – and it’s going to take a lot of hard work by management to convince us that we are not just cannon fodder……

  • Jim

    Did Apple get this guy from Best Buy?

  • Jordanbrennan728

    Dalrymple nailed it. This guy does NOT belong at Apple. He is Wal-Mart material. A Wal-Mart exec would think, “Durrr, I gonna lay people off because I want da balance sheet to look better so wall street will tink I’m smart.” Browett, please leave.

  • http://mainline.openid.35.com/ Sonny Blaise

    This is exactly how Apple will fall, now that Steve has passed.

    Apple saved themselves from Browett’s mistake today, but it takes energy and effort to keep yourself from making costly mistakes, and the energy and effort put into this is taken away from what’s needed to make a better Apple.

    Other commenters here have noted the time-worn adage that is used (far too often) in the Valley, and in other sectors where people smarts are vital to the biz: “A players hire A players. B players hire C players.”

    Cook is going to do as well as he can, but he does not have the charisma, or (much more importantly) the respect-in-every-fiber-of-my-being that Jobs received from everybody (even if sometimes grudgingly.)

    Sooner or later, Cook is going to give too much leeway to a sharp-nosed new exec who wants to make a name for herself or himself by seizing the throne. That brown-noser will talk the talk for a good while, but once they get into the right C-level office, they will do their damndest to become the king, by emphasizing attractions of short-term thinking.

    Other execs who would ordinarily know better, and who would ordinarily better defend The Apple Way will be worn out from putting energy and effort into fixing mistakes like Browett’s.

    Sooner or later, the brown-noser will dethrone the current monarch, and the reign of terror will begin.

  • Guest commenter

    The point that seems to be missed by most, is that the real blame needs to be directed on whoever recruited this “idiot”. Who was it that failed to assess the guy’s ability, skills, attitudes and values before investing millions of dollars into that person? Which idiot would do that? If a company hires someone who is not fit for the job, that’s the firm’s fault – not the recruit’s. So who hired the idiot then? Whoever it was, should be sacked. Sent home.

  • http://twitter.com/metamanagement metamanagement

    Will we ever learn…no company grows on the back of cost cuts

  • AppleBeCareful

    Apple GET RID OF HIM NOW BEORE IT IS TOO LATE.

  • TheCityDweller

    More alarming is what he didn’t do after his mistake was obvious. There is no mea culpa. This guy can’t even take his own stink. “WE made a mistake” despite the rest of the retail group’s advice against his action. Classic, classic MBA. If it worked, he’d be all “I” instead of “we.” Wasn’t this MBA-logic the basis of that wonderful economic model known as “privatize the gains, socialize the losses”?

  • Mayson

    This is scary. The most important decisions a CEO makes are personnel decisions: hiring, promotion, and firing. This indicates that Cook isn’t so good at them, as he hired somebody who just didn’t get Apple. Will he have the guts to admit that he goofed, by firing the guy?

  • madasfuck

    I finally found your “writing”. Seriously? This is it? Where is your “music” to be found? haha…