When I worked at the movie theater in high school, we had a special procedure for the openings of the really big movies. It wasn’t just about adding extra staff for the weekend–it was also about knowing how the whole operation was going to run. When did the various theaters let out? Where are people who show up early going to stand? How are we going to direct traffic as people exit when there isn’t much room in the lobby during the big rushes? Putting on a big production takes a lot of planning.

Being desirous of an iPhone but not being in the mood to take off work and wait for one, I went by the Apple Store in Clarendon last night expecting to see a huge line, and I did. Katherine had a happy hour to go to, so we grabbed some quick dinner and then she went to the bar and I went to check out the situation at the store. At 6:30, when I got in line, it had wrapped around to the Barnes & Noble about five stores down. A long line, but not crazy long, and it was moving, so I figured I’d stand around for a few minutes and try to gauge how long it’d take to move up a reasonable amount.

This is where I started to get impressed. Apple had staff walking up and down the line answering questions and just generally talking to them, setting up a friendly rapport. They said they had plenty of phones in stock, and they were counting the people in line to make sure that everyone there would be able to get one (two, actually). It was about 80 degrees out–hot, but not oppressively hot. Employees would come up every few minutes with bottles of water for anyone in line. As we got closer to the store entrance, we saw that they were letting in groups of 20 or so at a time. Everyone once in a while we’d hear cheering, which I assumed to be coming from random people who were leaving, very excited about their purchase. Once I was on deck, I realized that the cheers were coming from the employees. As they let our group into the store, the employees by the door would cheer and smile and high five everyone who entered. We were then led through the store in a serpentine path until we got up to the registers, where they had giant stacks of iPhones ready to be bought. (They had hundreds upon hundreds in stock.) When called, you walked up, asked for a phone, they’d swipe your card, and you were done. Each transaction took well under a minute. On the way out, more cheers and high fives from the employees.

It all sounds silly. They were putting on a show. The regional manager of the movie theater in high school said that the corporate philosophy was that we were supposed to “give the customer an experience.” This is what Apple was doing. You’ve talked yourself into buying an expensive gadget, and they’re going to make you feel good about it. Excited about it. High five.