Starbucks Is Brewing Up a Plan to Feel More Local, Less Commercial


Almost every caffeine addict has visited a Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) at least once in his or her life. Even the staunchest Starbucks haters can’t deny that the chain’s service is fast, convenient, consistent, and (relatively) affordable. It also helps that consumers can find a Starbucks just about anywhere they go, and know they’re getting the same cup of coffee. The ubiquity of a chain is a good measure of its success, but it can also work to a company’s disadvantage, as the coffee company has recently recognized recognize Starbucks’ has.

The problem for Starbucks is that now more and more consumers are choosing to support local, or at least want to feel like they’re supporting local. That means that if Starbucks wants to sustain its current success, it’s in its best interest to not let every Starbucks location look and feel the same. In a recent report by Wired that illuminated the coffee shop’s new goal for more designs, Starbucks’s vice president of design of for the Americas, Bill Sleeth, explained, “What you don’t want is a customer walking into a store in downtown Seattle, walking into a store in the suburbs of Seattle, and then going into a store in San Jose, and seeing the same store.” It’s a narrow line that Starbucks has to walk, as the company clearly wants to maintain its many locations, but it also wants them to look differently and feel more local, so customers don’t continue to offer complaints in surveys like, ” ‘Everything I go, there you are,’ and not in a good way,” as explained by Sleeth.

So, what does Sleeth say Starbucks has up its sleeve? The answer: good design. Wired reports that Starbucks open more than 1,700 stores in 2013, but this year, it is working on the intense customization of its stores so the locations feel a little less brand-y. That could explain why the Seattle-based chain already opened a new Starbucks on a moving train last November. Because, how’s that for the look of a different of Starbucks? The company teamed up with Swiss train company SBB to convert a double-decker train car into a store that people could visit at their leisure. So yes, Starbucks might not be a small business, and not exactly local, but it is starting to design new stores that don’t make its customers feel like they’re sitting in just any old coffee chain.

But every new Starbucks location won’t be on a moving train. In fact, most of them will be stationary. That doesn’t mean they won’t be unique, though, and catered to the city or town that they are hosted in. Wired reports that in order to design its new stores to feel more local, Starbucks has relocated many of its executives and designers out of Seattle, and into places that are preparing to welcome the coffee chain to the neighborhood. Sleeth explains, “We couldn’t design locally relevant stores, stores that would resonate with our customers, from Seattle.”

Having designers and executives in these new neighborhoods allows designers to get a better feel for the surroundings, and incorporates more of communities’ stores into the designs.  Wired reports that designers have even worked to study how people in certain areas tend to shop, because some cities’ residents are reported to be more likely to get their coffee in pairs, while other towns’ coffee drinkers prefer to drink alone. That helps dictate how designers should draw up the stores, illuminating why some locations have more individual stools, while others have more big tables and group settings.

Of course, Starbucks is still a business and has to keep its eye on its potential profit figures, with Sleeth asserting, “We know we can’t just go in and overspend,” but the coffee company  still maintains the overall belief that its investment in design will pay off in the end when more customers visit its stores. Starbucks still is only in the process of rolling out more customized locations and testing new concept stores, but it’ll be something to certainly look out for in the future, and even to try to recognize next time you’re in a Starbucks.

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