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Apple's shopping for a new shopkeeper, again

Apple's latest retail chief is out, and the company says it's on the lookout for someone to take the helm.

Browett, who's leaving Apple.
Browett, who's leaving Apple.

Apple is once again on the hunt for someone to run its still-growing retail empire.

The company today said John Browett, who it hired from U.K. electronics retail chain Dixons, is leaving the company after a six-month stint.

Apple now says it's in the midst of finding a replacement, and in the meantime, its "retail team will report directly to (CEO) Tim Cook."

Browett started near the end of April, and was given a compensation package worth north of $61 million. It took Apple more than seven months to hire him after the departure of Ron Johnson, who left to become the chief executive at retailer J.C. Penney.

Browett's departure was included as part of an announcement today of the departure for iOS software chief Scott Forstall in 2013, and expanded roles for Jony Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue, and Craig Federighi.

A bumpy start
Browett's brief tenure brought both positive and negative publicity to Apple's retail empire, though much of the focus centered on reports of budget cuts, employee layoffs, and other scale-backs.

On the good side: In June the company raised the pay for some of its employees up by 25 percent, based on performance, and it dolled out more generous employee discounts. The positive change was soon overshadowed by reports that some of the company's retail employees were actually being laid off, or having their hours cut significantly.

Days after reports of the changes surfaced, an internal memo published by The Wall Street Journal had Browett saying the company had "messed up" the staffing changes, and that it had since reverted back. Nonetheless, a follow-up report said that cutbacks continued in some stores.

The grand opening of Apple's store in New York City's Grand Central Terminal.
The grand opening of Apple's store in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. Sarah Tew/CNET

Humble beginnings
The Apple retail store we know today nearly began as a place where you could grab coffee and a danish and do a little Web browsing on Mac.

The year before late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs re-took the helm, the company nearly launched the concept as a cyber cafe to show off Apple hardware versus to actually sell the stuff. When Jobs came back, he shelved the idea and went with a product showcase with a built-in customer service area instead.

While critics initially balked, Apple had the last laugh. The company's retail empire continues to grow. Apple opened up 33 retail stores during its fiscal 2012, and is now up to 390 stores. Most of those stores are in the U.S., however Apple has been expanding into other countries -- including 18 new stores that were in 10 countries during its recently-finished fourth quarter.

According to Apple, an average of 19,000 visitors come to each store every week, a number that's growing. Last quarter, 94 million people came into the company's stores, up 22 percent from the same time the year before.

While that success has been closely tied to the company's products and all around expansion of its store footprint, there's now little doubt it relates closely to who's running the show too. That should make Browett's replacement one to watch.