‘‘Back then, design was something for affluent people,’’ Johnson told fashion executives recently.
But the partnership, which was followed by deals with other designers like Isaac Mizrahi, redefined discounting. Even discount king Wal-Mart followed a variation of the strategy.
Success at Apple wasn’t much easier for Johnson. When Johnson and Jobs introduced the idea of opening retail locations, it was resisted by nearly everyone on Apple’s board. Board members looked at Gateway, a competitor that was in the midst of closing stores, as proof that the strategy wouldn’t work.
Even Johnson’s now-popular Genius Bar, a place within Apple stores where customers can get hands-on technical support, was seen as radical. It ran counter to the retail industry’s practice of hiding ‘‘repair’’ areas in the stores.
‘‘No one thought it would work,’’ Johnson told analysts earlier this year. ‘‘There wasn’t one positive believer.’’
The first Apple store, which opened in 2001 in Tyson’s Corner mall in Virginia, became a hit. Others across the nation followed. There are now 394 stores in 13 countries. ‘‘Apple has changed the way to buy a computer. And we did that by thinking completely differently about every aspect of the retail business,’’ Johnson says.
It’s his ‘‘go get ‘em’’ attitude that serves Johnson well, say those who know him. ‘‘If he believes in something wholeheartedly, there is not a person on this planet that could sway him,’’ says Francis, the former Penney president who now is marketing creative adviser for Gap Inc.
Francis says he doesn’t resent Johnson because he fired him. ‘‘There are no reasons to have hard feelings,’’ he told The Associated Press. ‘‘Life is too short.’’
Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions, says that the problems Johnson has had at Penney will only add to his creative genius. ‘‘He has learned the CEO job on the fly,’’ he says. ‘‘He’s still a visionary, but he’s a bruised and more humbled visionary.’’
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