Ron Johnson, the ex–Apple retail chief, godfather of the Apple Store, and, most recently, leader of a disastrous turnaround effort at J.C. Penney that led to tens of thousands of lob losses, has returned to the shopping world. And this time, he says, employees stand to benefit.
Johnson is leading a startup called Enjoy, whose most notable feature might be how it's approaching its workforce.
Enjoy, currently available only in Manhattan and San Francisco, aims to offer high-quality delivery and setup for personal electronics. Through Enjoy's website, customers can purchase a small range of devices like GoPro cameras, Sonos speakers or HP laptops.
The selling point is that the purchase price includes delivery from an Enjoy "expert," who will head to your home or another agreed-upon meeting place at a precise time — no windows of availability — and walk you through setup, how to use the item, home integration, and more.
"The quality of the expert is going to make the experience magic," Johnson said at a dinner with journalists in Manhattan on Tuesday evening. While the current trend in obtaining personal services on demand involves platforms that connect you with a pool of independent contractors, Enjoy's experts are good old-fashioned employees. And they're ones that will earn salaries "in the high five-figures" and receive benefits and stock.
Beyond that, they will get to choose how many hours they want to work in a week, from 25 to 45, and what days they're available. "These are the first great jobs of the mobile world," Johnson said. "If there hadn't been the emergence of the contractor model, we wouldn't have had the idea for Enjoy," he added, with a nod to Uber.
Bundling the cost of customer service employees into the purchase price is what brick-and-mortar retailers have always done, and Johnson's new business is an e-commerce era play on it that he dubs "personal commerce." The money that a physical retailer has to devote to rent and other store expenses is going straight to Enjoy's experts, who Johnson said are the company's core product.
Their delivery and set-up visit, designed in conjunction with the device's manufacturer, typically lasts up to an hour. Customers can also use the service to get help on products they already own (for a $99 fee), and later this month, AT&T will offer delivery and setup from Enjoy on its website at checkout.
Ultimately, Enjoy is betting that its experts — 40 in San Francisco and 40 in New York — will be so well-trained and offer such good service that customers will delight in their purchases and spread word to their friends.
It's a counterpoint to Silicon Valley's reliance on automation and low-cost contract labor, be it from e-commerce sites to apps like Uber, Instacart, and TaskRabbit. While such a model gives flexibility to workers, who can pick their own hours and operate independently, they often don't receive benefits, have to cover their own expenses, and can be fired easily without explanation.
"They deserve a better job," Johnson said. Employees will be getting "salary, stock, and benefits, with the model of the mobile world."
It might also be a better job than part-time workers at the retailers Johnson has previously led. Before working at J.C. Penney and Apple, he was a senior manager at Target, and all three companies have come under fire for low pay, while J.C. Penney and Target are among 13 retailers that the New York attorney general is investigating for unpredictable scheduling practices.
Johnson said the part-time workforce has gotten far more squeezed since he started in the retail industry 30 years ago, and that more retailers could accommodate employees' schedules if they wanted to.
Enjoy developed its own employee scheduling app, and offers a form of "surge pricing" for employees who want to earn extra money on busy days when they aren't scheduled to work. While staff can work remotely and head to appointments as needed, they also have access to the "Enjoy House," a meeting spot of sorts, in Downtown Manhattan. They can hang around there between jobs, and the space is also used to deliver training.
Ultimately, Johnson believes the company could retain its employees for 3–5 years, especially those who are pursuing a passion project while paying the bills through work at Enjoy. The average retention of a retail employee at Apple is around 18 months, he said.
While Amazon recently announced Amazon Home Services, which connects users to local contractors for tasks like setting up a printer or assembling furniture, Johnson argued that model can't replicate the level of service and personalization that Enjoy will offer.
"I don't know how they could offer it," he said. "The reality is it'd be hard for them."