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Retail stores part of Apple marketing plan as far back as 1976, says Silicon Valley ad whiz

Apple began formulating a strategy for direct-to-consumer sales from a nationwide chain of first-party brick-and-mortar retail stores as many as 25 years before the first Apple Store opened in 2001, according to a new report.

Apple Store Causeway Bay

Apple's Causeway Bay retail store in Hong Kong

"I had actually presented this [idea of retail outlets] to Apple a couple of times," early Apple marketing guru Regis McKenna said during an appearance at the Computer History Museum which was documented by CNET. "I had talked about putting them in different parts of the country."

McKenna said his concept initially called for outlets that focused on sales and training for large corporate customers, with the idea that the division would gradually transition toward retail sales to consumers. Conversely, modern-day Apple stores are geared toward consumers while offering limited business-focused services like the popular Joint Venture program.

That path has made Apple's retail empire the most profitable in the world. The company's 422 stores in 14 countries posted $4.5 billion in revenue last year and consistently outpace all other chains on a revenue-per-square-foot basis.

Apple's pairing with McKenna, a legendary figure in Silicon Valley who was instrumental in Apple's launch as well as those of now-storied companies like Intel, 3Com, and Microsoft, nearly ended before it began.

Recalling a 1976 meeting with Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, McKenna said that he initially turned down Apple's business and only relented after bearing the brunt of Jobs's famous persistence.

"Steve called back probably 40 times that night," McKenna said.