Curiosity Matters

An Exploration of Branding, Design and Cultural Trends

Starbucks’ Future To Include Beer & Wine?

October 19, 2010 - via PSFK

The Starbucks of the future – if a new prototype renders the concept effective – may serve regional wine and beer, offer locally made cheeses served on china, host a redesigned barista bar where customers are close to the coffee, and be ‘green’ in both design and color. This Starbucks could easily be confused for an established neighborhood cafe, and not a globalized, heavily branded chain location. This prototype Starbucks store is located at a 10-year old location on Olive Way in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area, after being closed for a three-month long redesign.

While we’ve seen and discussed Starbucks prototypes before as part of its efforts for continued evolution, this particular protoype comes at a decisive time for Starbucks, as the company turns 40. The objective is two fold: for customers, to make the stores seem friendly and more part of the neighborhood; and for stockholders, to make the stores more profitable by targeting greater evening visitation & consumption (currently, US Starbucks stores get 70% of their business before 2PM). That is where Starbucks hopes the beer, wine and cheese could deliver – and it’s that focus on evening participation that previous prototypes may not have been as focused on encouraging.

The USA Today piece includes a walk-through of the location 5 days prior to opening, and points out some of the key experiential differences between this and standard Starbucks locations – these may serve as an advantage, or as a risk:

For one, the new store doesn’t instantly look like Starbucks. The colors are muted. The lighting, particularly in the evenings, is dimmed. The whole design tenor is low key, as if trying to look like it’s been part of the neighborhood for decades. It simply doesn’t scream Starbucks when you walk in the door.

For a company that’s trying to encourage evening visitation – and guests staying to ‘hang out’ – this could be beneficial. It could also alienate those ‘purists’ that visit Starbucks purely for the coffee, and whom would prefer to visit a bar in the evenings, vs. the same spot they may visit in the morning.

In the spirit of continued innovation and evolution, Starbucks is taking a very active, potentially risky decision by testing this new prototype. But isn’t this what ANY brand should do in setting the course for its future direction, and seizing new opportunities to better serve customers (even when those customers don’t realize they want this from the brand in question)? The company and global brand is testing if it can change perception and increase consumption/visitation behavior by altering the experience, product and service it offers in stores. We will keep a close eye on how this prototype performs for the brand, and are very curious to see what it learns.

What do you think? I think this is a smart move. Once trying to be alternative and the little guy - Starbucks is now like McDonald's (or at least the high quality, fair trade version). I think these stores will continue their position as innovators and early adopters and strengthen the brand. They're turning into the Gap of the coffee world and these stores would be the Banana Republic of Starbucks.. or maybe even the Monogram. My favorite places to hang out in New York were coffee places with internet access by day, and wine bars with internet turned off at night. V-Bar watch out. Isn't it funny that potentially one of the biggest innovations in a coffee chain is emulating what Parisians have had for over a century?