Apple re-opens its campus store on Saturday. James Martin/CNET
CUPERTINO, California — Now when you visit Apple’s global headquarters and go to the store on campus, you can do something you’ve never been able to do there before: buy an iPhone.
The consumer electronics giant is re-opening the store on Saturday after closing it in June for renovations. But on Friday, Apple opened it exclusively to employees and gave CNET an early glimpse.
“It’s completely different,” said Enrique Atienza, a senior marketing director at Apple.
And it is. The old store, first opened 22 years ago, was dark and reminiscent of a campus bookstore. It was the only place Apple fans could get company swag. It had T-shirts on racks with slogans like, “It’s the thinnest, most lightweight T-shirt yet,” or a baby onesie that said “User guide not included.” You could buy iPads, iPods and Macs there, but no other devices.
The new store, though, is bright with a glass facade storefront, a wall of wooden shelves, and hundreds of LED lights overhead. It looks more like a normal Apple retail store, selling the company’s full suite of devices, from iPhones to Apple Watches. The T-shirts are still clever, but less slapstick. One of them says “shirt” and another has a picture of the ubiquitous ellipses that iPhone users see when the person they are texting with is typing a response. For the first time ever, the campus store will also be open on Saturdays.
Apple CEO Tim Cook greeted employees earlier in the day. Apple
“The store represents the optimism of the brand,” said Atienza. “A lot of international folks come here. They want to be where it started.” CEO Tim Cook visited the store earlier in the day, and the line of employees snaked around Apple’s campus.
The new store represents the new direction Apple is taking with its retail operations. The company has tasked Angela Ahrendts — the former Burberry CEO who became head of Apple’s online and in-store sales last year — with turning things around in retail, and adding an air of high-fashion to its stores. Apple in May also promoted Jony Ive to the newly created position of chief design officer, a role that will involve redesigning Apple’s retail stores.
Atienza said it’s difficult to parse out Ahrendts and Ive’s specific contributions to the new store, but their “footprints” are all over the design.
He also said the new store would not necessarily be a template for coming stores, but said some of the new store elements — like the wood shelves and the lighting — are the kinds of things you can expect in future stores. Apple is also officially opening a store in Brussels, Belgium, on Saturday, which has a similar look and feel.
While the 1 Infinite Loop location has never been a huge venue, it is the only retail store on Apple’s Cupertino campus — and one of the only places the public can access at the company’s headquarters.
Apple largely defined what a modern electronics-buying experience should look and feel like, but sales growth at Apple’s physical stores has slowed. In Apple’s fiscal 2014, which ended September 27, 2014, retail sales rose only 6 percent to $21.46 billion, on par with the 7 percent rise in 2013. It’s a much lower growth rate than the 33 percent increase seen in 2012, 44 percent in 2011, and 47 percent in 2010 despite Apple opening more stores.
Some say the novelty has worn off, with Samsung and Microsoft successfully mimicking part of Apple’s retail feel. And Apple no longer breaks out retail sales in its quarterly results, making it difficult to gauge how its stores are doing.
Apple’s redesigned campus store (pictures)
In the fiscal third quarter, which ended June 27, Apple opened three new retail stores, bringing its total to 456. Greater China has become a big focus, with Apple planning to have 40 stores in the region by mid-2016. As of the end of January, 182 of Apple’s stores were outside the US.
Atienza said he wants the new campus store to also be a place for the community around Apple’s headquarters. He tossed around the idea of holding local events in the store, but he’s not sure yet of all the possibilities.
“It’s an empty template for us to figure out,” he said.