Does Your Apple Store Smell Like Body Odor?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The other day a friend of mine mentioned that our local Santa Monica Apple (AAPL) Store smells bad. Like body odor. Particularly in the morning at the entrance.

Having had the same thought over the months since Apple moved its one million dollar per day location a couple blocks from its previous perch, I decided to investigate.

First, a simple Web search reveals that this problem is not exclusive to Apple Santa Monica. At least not historically. Most reports of a stench permeating Apple retail are from the pre-2013 period. In fact, my unscientific, Google (GOOG)-fueled sample revealed that a majority date back to the 2008 to 2012 timeframe.

This makes the notion of a noticeable stink at what we can reasonably call one of Apple's most important "flagship" locations all the more newsworthy.

You would think if the presence of what even Santa Monica Apple Store employees I spoke with define as B.O. has been a recurring problem elsewhere, management in charge of retail operations would have taken steps to safeguard future stores, particularly the brand's most important ones. If you can hardly smell cigarette smoke in the best Vegas casinos, you shouldn't be able to whiff stale sweat inside one of the world's premier retail outlets. 

But, of course, after Ron Johnson left for J. C. Penney (JCP) nobody, other than the underperforming John Browett (who lasted six months), was officially in charge of Apple retail for an entire year. Maybe job one for Angela Ahrendts is to address this known issue.

I call it a "known issue" because I spoke to two Apple Store Santa Monica employees this week who confirmed, without hesitation, that the store, at times, does indeed stink.

When I asked one employee about it, this employee chalked it up to "human beings." Lots of them. Lingering and loitering. This employee claimed management has been informed of the issue. At one point in our conversation, this employee tried to blame that morning's particularly intense smell on what he referred to as "plumbing work" being conducted "underneath the building."

Upon further query, I was actually given an unofficial walk through the store by another employee that helps explain this sensory phenomenon.

I should point out that -- in the spirit of full disclosure -- I did not reveal my identity to the Apple Store employees I spoke to. Knowing the tight leash Apple keeps on its people, especially at the retail level, there's no way I would have obtained answers or otherwise useful information had they known I am a member of the media. That said, even going in anonymous, I didn't expect such uncharacteristically loose lips.

Part of me feels badly being incognito through the whole thing, but there was no request or implicit expectation that I -- or the people I was with -- keep what follows, largely on Page Two, between us.

The employee who showed me around the store pointed out sensors (the little things that look like the ends of screws in the middle of the image) located on the walls up to the ceiling throughout the store.


According to this employee's account, the "sniffers" -- that's the term this person used -- are high up on the wall, above sensors used for different purposes. The employee explained that it takes a while for our collective breaths to rise to these "sniffers," which also measure carbon monoxide, and trigger the ventilation systems located on the walls, along the floor underneath product displays.

This, according to the employee, explains why the B.O. smell tends to be worse in the morning. Perfectly logical, though hardly excusable.  

This employee also noted that the rank and file has informed corporate management, who is apparently working on a fix for the problem. A problem it sounds to me like the retail workers want remedied. If it's not a pleasant environment for them, it's probably not doing any favors for the Apple customer.

I found all of this especially interesting during a time of renewed scrutiny on Apple. After the company's most recent earnings report, lo and behold, you have people calling for Tim Cook's head. Something that, by the way, I told you would eventually become more commonplace.

Here you have Apple, a company known for obsessively controlling every detail of its existence down to what others might consider minutia, yet, as it moved a landmark store from one location to another, it didn't, presumably, pay enough attention to what should have been, at the very least, on the radar of concern.

To stress, this isn't any old store. It was a big deal, locally here in Santa Monica when it moved. It was -- and remains -- a big deal nationally, on par with the architectural significance of the Palo Alto/Stanford, Manhattan/Upper West Side and Manhattan/Fifth Avenue Apple Stores.

For goodness sake, according to a Santa Monica Apple retail worker the floor comes from Italy. The walls from Tennessee. And some of the metal from Japan. It's a big, bright and beautiful store, comprised largely of glass. Striking. Just gorgeous. But where has the attention to detail at Apple gone?

You have to consider little things like this -- particularly not learning from your own history -- as meaningful contributors to the larger narrative of what might be going on and/or is, quite possibly, wrong at Apple.

It took the company "forever" (in tech, anything slightly north or south of a year qualifies as "forever") to put somebody competent or, for a long while, just somebody in charge of one of Apple's most important assets -- retail.

Consider the timing -- the Apple Store in question opened in December 2012. The nuts and bolts of the transition took place toward the end of Ron Johnson's watch, but also during the hollow tenure of Browett. You would think whoever was minding Apple retail would have been intimately involved in the design and construction of this store, to the point where they might have stressed -- Let's make sure we don't have a body odor issue here.

Or maybe that's just me. (Not with the B.O., but with the thought).

Or maybe Apple has slacked a bit on its penchant for being anal-retentive and hyper-controlling over how it presents itself to the public.

Or maybe more Apple Stores than I think have the "known issue" of a body odor problem. You tell me. 

Or maybe I'm not sure which of these ors is worse.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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