Former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson spoke earlier this year at his alma mater Stanford University and talked about the early years of Apple retail stores (via ifoAppleStore). Johnson oversaw the development of the Apple Store and is credited with creating the company's distinctive retail experience.
After joining Apple in 2000, Johnson was given complete control over the company's retail project by then-CEO Steve Jobs. The first Apple Stores featured high-speed Internet connections to attract new customers and were originally designed to create a sense of community among Apple users, not necessarily sell products.
“It was a pure play,” Johnson said of the store design. “There was really no compromise on any of the intuition. And I think that’s how the Apple stores connected (with visitors).” Even today, he said, people go to the stores, “just to go. They don’t go to buy. There are so many reasons to come.”
Johnson joined Apple as Senior Vice President of Retail Operations in January 2000 and remained in that role until 2011, when he departed for a CEO position at J.C. Penney. Under his leadership, Apple's retail operations exploded, generating over a $1 billion in annual sales within two years and eventually leading all U.S. retailers in terms of monetary sales per square foot.
Johnson was succeeded by Dixons' John Browett, who served as Apple's retail chief for a short seven months. Apple's retail operations, which now include 425 retail stores in 16 countries worldwide, are now under the leadership of former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, who joined Apple earlier this year. Ahrendts is best known for her transformation of Burberry from a struggling retailer into a global fashion powerhouse.