Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Apple retail stores and the TQM experience

About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine was getting ready to move to New York City for the summer, and some of us were talking about what we would do if we went out to visit her. One of my friends said the first thing he would do is go the "glass cube" Apple store on Fifth Avenue (pictured at left).

As nerdy as that sounds, he's not alone: a recent article in the Wall Street Journal says that more people now visit one of Apple's 326 stores in a single quarter than the 60 million who visited Disney's four biggest theme parks last year.

The aforementioned article is filled with valuable insight into what drives the popularity of Apple's retail stores. But I want to highlight what stood out the most to me: Apple sales associates are trained not to sell, but rather to help customers solve problems. Employees receive no sales commissions and have no sales quotas.

To me, this epitomizes the Total Quality Management (TQM) principle that we are taught in our operations management classes. Employees in a TQM environment focus primarily on the customer. They aren't thinking about themselves ("If I sell two more gizmos, I will make an extra $30 on my next paycheck!").

I am not a smart enough person to know the exact situations when sales commissions are appropriate and when they are not. So I am certainly not saying that sales commissions and quotas should be eliminated, nor do I believe that businesses that use them are foolish. But, there is something to be said for the emphasis Apple sales associates place on the customer. In our own jobs and careers, we will be much more successful if we find ways to shift our focus away from ourselves and toward those who we are trying to assist.

Connor Child

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