On Friday, May 19th, Apple opened its stunning Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan. The large underground store is entered through a striking glass “cube” aboveground in a spacious urban plaza, making the entrance itself an iconic beacon. It’s an immediate landmark.
The Fifth Avenue store is a showcase of the Apple brand. It has lessons for all brand builders.
Framing the customer
To aspire to greatness a brand must frame its customers on a plane of greatness. Apple knows how to do this. Through its innovative architecture, Apple makes a trip to this store the virtual equivalent of visiting the Louvre in Paris, where visitors enter through an equally striking glass pyramid. Apple thus frames its customers in the context of Europe’s greatest art. The “cube,” though, does not mimic the Louvre’s pyramid. It honors it symbolically while making its own distinct statement. It invites customers to become active creators of art using Apple technology, not just spectators of past creations. Customers who enter the glass cube experience both the homage and the daring break.
A cardinal rule of retail is to make your retail space an ongoing event that awakens your customers to new experiences. Your store is a realm of customer connections, not just a door and four walls. And “event” means drama—lots of it. Thus, opening a store becomes an exponentially dramatic event, flush with new connections. Apple is a master of such occasions. The indefatigable ifoApple has some Fifth Avenue event details. Here is a snippet:
The short early line and thunderstorms translated into a huge line just before and after the opening. At 4:10 p.m. New York Times tech writer David Pogue showed up with a new black MacBook, with the iMovie recording feature running, and was interviewing people. At the same time, we could hear the store employees yelling and hooting inside the store. At 4:30 p.m. there were 915 people in line, stretching around the block. Security guards split the line at business entrances to keep them from being blocked.
At about 5:30 p.m. dozens of store employees came up the stairs and started working the waiting line, standing on the plaza and making like cheerleaders–the crowd yelled back. At the same moment, Steve Jobs appeared at the entrance, generating more yells, including from some young woman who told Jobs, “You hot!” Apple’s architects and retail execs also joined the group, standing to the right of the cube entrance. Johnson and Blankenship hugged again. The press had arrived and were positioned to the right of the entrance.
With just 15 minutes left before opening, the young man who was #8 in line turned to his female companion and proposed to her. She accepted, and that set off a ripple of “Awwww” back through the crowd, and up to the Apple staffers. Some came over to offer their congratulations.
The waiting line was in a perfect configuration to watch the show and create sidewalk buzz. The closest people were both those at the front of the line, and those at the end. Both groups were looking straight at the cube, which is raised up several steps, creating a stage. The pedestrian area was jammed, and there was a huge crowd of people across Fifth Avenue trying to catch a glimpse of what was occurring.
Retail as an expression of brand
Apple rightly considers retail to be an expression of the Apple brand, on par with other brand expressions such as “design” and “user interface.” In other words, “retail” channels the brand. It is not allowed to impose constraints that bend the brand.
Apple demonstrates that retail space is also a spatial extension of brand, a multi-dimensional platform for customer experience and growth. Retail is thus a workspace for brand. You build out from the brand. It’s what your brand does with—and within—that space that defines who you are, and where you lead.
More on the Fifth Avenue Store from Apple.
Photo source: openeye, flickr
UPDATE: ifoApple looks into estimated construction and maintenance costs of the Fifth Avenue Store.