Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

The cult of the Apple Store

June 24, 2012: 8:25 AM ET

Part 4 of the New York Times' series takes readers inside the indoctrination process

Apple Store employees. Photo: Madexperts.com

FORTUNE -- If you've ever wondered what kind of training is required to get Apple employees to behave the way they do at the opening of a new retail outlet or the launch of a new iPhone -- whooping, hollering and tearing around the shopping mall -- David Segal's front-page story in Sunday's New York Times offers some clues.

The piece, Part 4 in the paper's puzzling series about the company, begins like the others -- setting Apple up as the exemplar of all that is wrong with the companies that make up the "iEconomy": avoiding taxes, exporting jobs, exploiting Chinese workers and, in this piece, creating dead-end jobs in retail sales.

Like the others, the story is well reported and relatively balanced. But it suffers from the same basic flaw: Having chosen to focus on Apple (AAPL) because the company is so high profile and sure to draw page views, the reporting leads readers to the conclusion that Apple's policies are not as evil as the set-up implies and in fact are better than most of Apple's competitors'.

In this case, the $11.25 an hour entry-level Apple Store employees make (not counting the raises Apple handed out just before the Times' story appeared) is considerably higher than minimum wage ($7.25), better than the Gap, and nearly as high as the best-paying retail outlet Segal was able to find: Lululemon, a yoga and athletic apparel chain where sales staff earn about $12 an hour.

"Nickel and Dimed" -- Barbara Ehrenreich's 2001 undercover expose about the life of Wal-Mart's working poor -- this is not.

But it does take readers deeper inside the Apple retail indoctrination process than anything I've read before, including this key section:

One manager said it was common for people offered jobs to burst into tears. But if the newly hired arrive as devotees, Apple's training course, which can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the job and locale, turns them into disciples.

Training commences with what is known as a "warm welcome." As new employees enter the room, Apple managers and trainers give them a standing ovation. The clapping often bewilders the trainees, at least at first, but when the applause goes on for several lengthy minutes they eventually join in.

"My hands would sting from all the clapping," says Michael Dow, who trained Apple employees for years in Providence, R.I.

There is more role-playing at Core training, as it's known, this time with pointers on the elaborate etiquette of interacting with customers. One rule: ask for permission before touching anyone's iPhone.

"And we told trainees that the first thing they needed to do was acknowledge the problem, though don't promise you can fix the problem," said Shane Garcia, the one-time Chicago manager. "If you can, let them know that you have felt some of the emotions they are feeling. But you have to be careful because you don't want to lie about that."

The phrase that trainees hear time and again, which echoes once they arrive at the stores, is "enriching people's lives." The idea is to instill in employees the notion that they are doing something far grander than just selling or fixing products. If there is a secret to Apple's sauce, this is it: the company ennobles employees. It understands that a lot of people will forgo money if they have a sense of higher purpose.

For anyone who has wondered how Apple Stores do what they do, or considered applying for a job at one, Segal's piece is a must-read. You can get it here.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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