Steve Jobs Initially Thought the Genius Bar Was ‘Idiotic’

Steve Jobs with MacBook Air Credit: Matthew Yohe, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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“That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!” is initially how Steve Jobs responded to the idea of a Genius Bar, according to former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson, who recalled the day on the latest episode of the Recode Decode podcast.

In 2000, Apple originally reached out to Johnson to help create and manage the company’s first retail stores. During the interview, Jobs told Johnson to come back with a written report of his plans for Apple’s retail direction. When he came back with a 10-page thesis, Jobs told him that he “didn’t like” it, but added “That’s okay, let’s talk!” Jobs proceeded to hire him that day. One of the more amusing anecdotes is how Jobs initially reacted to Johnson’s idea of the Genius Bar — an idea that would later go on to become, arguably, the focal point of Apple’s retail outlets.

“I remember the day I came in and told Steve about the Genius Bar idea and he says, ‘That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!’” Johnson told Recode. “He said, ‘Ron, you might have the right idea, but here’s the big gap: I’ve never met someone who knows technology who knows how to connect with people. They’re all geeks! You can call it the Geek Bar.’”

But Johnson countered with: “Steve, kids who are in their 20s today grew up in a very different world. They all know technology, and that’s who’s going to work in the store.” In hindsight, Johnson was right — and Jobs apparently warmed up pretty quick to the idea, as Jobs proceeded to file a trademark for the phrase “Genius Bar” the next day.

Johnson, originally Target’s vice president of merchandising, went on to foster the image of the Apple Store we know today. Although Johnson left the company in 2011, under his leadership, the Apple Store switched the image of “the boring computer sales floor into a sleek playroom filled with gadgets,” according to the New York Times. Apple launched its first two stores in May 2001: a location in Tysons Corner, Virginia and an outlet in Glendale, California. A humble beginning for a venture that now has 490 locations in 20 countries.

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