Apple hires John Browett of Europe's Dixons to head retail chain

For Apple Inc.'s newly appointed head of retail, the Genius Bar may be pretty high.

The company said Tuesday that it had hired John Browett, chief executive of European technology retailer Dixons, to head its global chain of 361 stores starting in April.

Apple's fast-growing chain pulled in $6.1 billion in sales last quarter, a nearly 60% jump over the same period a year earlier, and accounted for 13% of the Cupertino, Calif., company's revenue.

Apple stores are known for their clean, spacious look, attractive architecture and customer service representatives who, from behind a counter dubbed the Genius Bar, try to tackle just about any product issue that Apple customers can throw at them. The company also has a penchant for opening the stores in marquee locations, including New York's Grand Central Station, which took the wraps off an Apple store in December.

Meanwhile, Dixons stores are reminiscent of U.S. chains Best Buy and Fry's Electronics; lots of square footage, row upon row of shelves packed with products and, frequently, bright primary color schemes. (At Best Buy, the employees are known as "Blue Shirts.")

The apparent gap between that aesthetic and the minimalist, elegant look and feel of Apple stores led some observers to wonder whether Browett's approach might clash with Apple's.

But Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive and Browett's new boss, isn't worried.

"Our retail stores are all about customer service, and John shares that commitment like no one else we've met," Cook said in a statement.

Browett replaces Ron Johnson, who built Apple's retail chain into what it is today and left in June to become chief executive of J.C. Penney Co. Johnson is trying to simplify the way the old-line department store chain works (among the strategies for its 1,100 stores: fewer coupons, fewer sales and lower overall prices).

Browett will move in the other direction, from a chain of 1,200 stores that operate across Europe and sell products from hundreds of manufacturers to a network of smaller storefronts that sell a relative handful of products, nearly all of them from Apple.

Apple executives probably are betting that Browett's knack for retail isn't reflected by Dixons' stock performance. The company's shares have dropped more than 90% during Browett's tenure, which began in 2007.

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