• DSC_0814_small
  • DSC_0821_small

Week 44: The Apple Store

Dear Batter Up friends, meet some of the folks at the Apple Store!

These people are awesome. Plain and simple. For a year and a half, I called these people my family. They are the craziest, funniest, most inappropriate people with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working—and they work their butts off for you.

When I first announced this delivery I felt the need to qualify it a bit. First of all, I haven’t really done much in the retail space and the little bit I have done has all been non-profit based. I’ve battered a couple of restaurant owners, but I didn’t give much attention to the employees of those restaurants. Let’s face it—it’s the workers that wait on us, day-in and day-out, that make our lives easier. I’ve got eight years of restaurant experience under my belt—from dive bar to fine dining—and another four years of retail—from locally owned gift shop to the richest retail giant in the world. In order to be as fair and unbiased as possible, I’d like to say that I chose the Apple Store despite the fact that I worked there for a year and a half. But, the truth is, I chose them because I did work there. Because I learned first hand what it’s like to work in that kind of environment, with those kinds of customers, with those kinds of price tags, and with those kinds of emotions.

I went to work for Apple in the spring of 2010, right before the first iPad was released. Apple has changed tremendously in the last four years, partly due to the fall of our brilliant leader, but in 2010 it was an honor to work there. In fact, statistically, it was more difficult to get a job at the Apple Store than it was to get into Stanford University. (That’s what they told me, anyway.) I was overwhelmed with excitement when I started. Those were the days of mile long lines for product releases and devices that were so new they were magical. It was such a great time to be a part of the company. But, the honeymoon wore off and the reality of the job quickly settled in.

At one time, Apple was counter-culture. The products were expensive and esoteric. Then came the iPod, followed by the iPhone, followed by the iPad. All of a sudden, everyone had an Apple product in their life and people couldn’t live without them. Due to the Apple retail infrastructure, there are very few places to go when you need something fixed—enter the Short Pump Apple Store. This store services from Lynchburg to Fredericksburg and Blacksburg to Williamsburg. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people walk through the front door every week. At any given moment on a weekend the store is so packed that you can’t get from one end to the other. Burnt out moms with bad attitudes are blocking people from looking at the products with their strollers the size of Cadillacs (which happen to be carrying shopping bags, not tiny humans), kids are peeing on the floor (no joke), people are angry because they didn’t make an appointment before they got there and they don’t feel as though they should have to wait for anything, and the whole store smells like a locker room. Not one of these things is the fault of an employee, yet it’s the employees who have to put smiles on their faces and deal with emotional people who have their unhappy pants on. And speaking of emotions, Disney has nothing on this place. The Apple Store is the most emotional place on earth. Imagine a place where people are being told that because they never backed up any of their information, they’ve lost years worth of files and family photos. Not only did they just lose everything, but their four year old computer is out of warranty so they have to shell out money they don’t have just to get a working computer again. Imagine telling the single mom that her six-month old iPhone that her kid used as a toy in the bath tub is nothing more than a paperweight and, because she’s not eligible for an upgrade, she has to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a new one. Or (my personal favorite) the wealthy business man who became enraged and got physical with me because he wanted two iPads and we only had one to sell him. (He was escorted out by a police officer and banned from the store.) The stories go on and on. We are a technologically driven society and the devices that exist in our lives have become our lifelines to the outside world. When these lifelines go down and the information that exists inside of them is compromised, people become emotional. Unfortunately, for many people, the first instinct is to take that emotion out on the nameless blue shirt standing in front of you who is trying desperately to keep you calm and help you as much as possible.

It’s not all bad though. For every bad story, there is a good one to counter it. I once spent three hours with an 87 year old woman teaching her how to use her new iPhone. I watched while she did face time and saw her great-grandchild for the first time in something other than a still photograph. For every hard-drive failure, there is a success story of an Apple Store Genius using his or her magical powers to remove the flashing question mark in middle of your screen and restore the world to a beautiful and happy place again. The Creatives spend hours every day teaching customers how to use software so they can edit family videos, record music, create albums, make spreadsheets, or do any number tasks with their computers and smaller devices. And the specialists, who don’t work on commission, will spend their time talking to you about your daily routine and figuring out the best possible solution to fit your own unique needs.

The place is an emotional roller coaster. Yes, people storm out mad as a hornet, blaming everyone in their path for all of their problems. And yes, people skip out of their in gleeful joy because they got exactly what they needed. Regardless of the end result, these are amazing, hard working people who go above and beyond for the customers—even the really mean ones. What they do, whether selling, fixing or teaching, is important to a lot of people. The least I could do is give them some cake.

And speaking of cake, this week was a Mocha Toffee Crunch Cake from Food Babbles. (recipe found here.) Just FYI mocha and toffee are two of my favorites words. This cake was the perfect metaphor for the Apple Store. The cake was dense and super moist, the mousse like icing was rich and creamy, the toffee was super crunchy, and they all came together to create a buttery, chocolate, espresso happy dance in your mouth. My Apple store family was different races, different sexual orientations, different educational and cultural backgrounds, but we all blended together into the amazingly diverse, dysfunctional, inappropriate, and hysterically funny family that was a HR department’s worst nightmare. And I’m going to stop there before I get anyone in trouble. ;-)