There's a terrific article in the latest issue of Fortune Magazine covering Apple's incredible success at retail.
Did you know that on a per square foot basis, they're the most successful retailer in America?
There's a pivotal paragraph in the piece (written by Jerry Useem) in which Steve Jobs credits the success of Apple’s entry into retail on Mickey Drexler urging him to rent a warehouse near the Apple headquarters and build a prototype of the future store to test design concepts before “they build 20 of them”:
"One of the best pieces of advice Mickey ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn't work," says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. "Ron and I had a store all designed," says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a "hub" for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it. But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category - in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. "We were like, 'Oh, God, we're screwed!'" says Jobs.
But they weren't screwed; they were in a mockup. "So we redesigned it," he says. "And it cost us, I don't know, six, nine months. But it was the right decision by a million miles." When the first store finally opened, in Tysons Corner, Va., only a quarter of it was about product. The rest was arranged around interests: along the right wall, photos, videos, kids; on the left, problems. A third area - the Genius Bar in the back - was Johnson's brainstorm"
Jobs' comments reminded me of the work that we've been doing for Starwood Hotels on their new brand, aloft. One of the most successful campaigns that we did last year was developing a prototype of the upcoming aloft hotel in the virtual world of Second Life.
What a lot of people may not know is that Starwood has also built a full-scale prototype of the design of the aloft lobby and hotel rooms (still in the concept stage) in a massive warehouse in White Plains, NY.
For many months we've been working with the aloft designers, giving them feedback from people who experience the hotel in Second Life. Both the warehouse prototype and the Second Life prototype are now being updated with changes incorporated from feedback and testing in both the warehouse and in Second Life.