Back in the day, former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson would plan all year for the frenzy of activity that typically accompanies the launch of a new iPhone.
Johnson has a calmer, more personalized approach in mind for Friday’s debut of Apple’s latest smartphone. His new company, Enjoy, will dispatch trained experts to hand-deliver the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus to consumers’ homes and spend an hour setting up the device and showing them how to use it. All that will be free of charge, courtesy of a partnership with AT&T.
“I got to be involved, at Apple, in the excitement of getting the product to people,” said Johnson. “Today, I’m involved in helping people fall in love with it.”
The retail veteran’s new e-commerce site, Enjoy, launched this spring in two markets, the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. For the moment, it offers a limited selection of consumer products — including Sonos wireless stereos, DJI drones, GoPro cameras and Specialized Turbo bikes — that it supports with the kind of white-glove service that’s typically reserved for VIPs.
Enjoy provides free delivery, as soon as four hours after placing an order, and no-cost setup and individualized tutorials for the gadgets purchased through its own e-commerce site or from partners AT&T, Boosted Boards and DJI.
“What we’ve learned is [that] when you change the location of where you serve a customer, you change the game,” Johnson said. “For example, if I show up in your home to deliver your iPhone, I can do everything a store can do — transfer the contacts, activate the phone. But because I don’t have to be in a hurry, I can explore all the great new features of the software. How do I use 3D Touch with my favorite apps? How do I set up Apple Pay? Is my new phone connected to my other devices?”
Think of it as a Genius Bar on steroids.
The inspiration for Enjoy came from the dozen years Johnson spent running Apple’s retail stores. The Cupertino technology giant prides itself on making devices that are easy to use, he said, yet the back of every store is crowded with people seeking help at the Genius Bar. Over the years, Apple had to devise ways to manage the demand, through reservations, personal setup sessions, workshops and other means.
“If Apple customers need help, what about everybody else?” Johnson thought.
Enjoy hires and trains full-time experts — on-demand workers who draw a salary, benefits and stock, but have the flexibility of an Uber driver to set their own schedules. Unlike Best Buy’s Geek Squad, Enjoy can afford to offer its tech support without charge because it doesn’t need to bear the cost of paying for physical retail space and stocking it with inventory; retail sales deliver enough margin to cover the cost of delivering the concierge service, Johnson said.
The promise of a service that takes the complexity out of consumer electronics purchases attracted $50 million in Series B funding this summer from a group of investors led by Highland Capital. That opportunity is expected to grow as Enjoy expands its product offerings to include devices for the connected home.
Johnson’s partnership with AT&T allows him to participate once again in an iPhone launch — though from a different vantage point.
As Apple’s chief retail executive, Johnson said, he would start preparing for the introduction of the next-generation iPhone the day after the newest one debuted. The best information, he said, would come from the crush of customers who arrived at Apple’s stores on launch day.
“You start to identify things that you could do better on the next year,” Johnson said. “You’ll spend the course of the entire year thinking through, ‘How do I deliver an even better experience the next time?'”
Johnson declined to comment on Apple’s prospects for a successful iPhone 6s launch. Some things, it appears, remain the same.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.