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Further Thoughts on Starbucks’ “15 Ave” Experiment

August 9, 2011

My post, “Why the Starbucks “15th Ave” Store Is Doomed to Fail” has incited more commentary in less time than anything else I’ve written.

Companies launch premium brands, so what’s the big deal?

A recurring comment, here and on other blogs, suggests I’m foolish because many companies launch sophisticated brands that aren’t associated with the core company (Toyota and Lexus, or Gap and Banana Republic), and those aren’t dishonest, are they?

No, they’re not, but that’s not what Starbucks is doing here. “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” is not a new “brand”. It is a coffeehouse. That is located on 15th Avenue. In all that I have read, I have seen nothing that says they are going to open other “15th Avenue”s elsewhere. They appear to be planning opening other similar neighborhood coffeehouses, but I see no indication they’ll be under a “15th Avenue” brand.

So please refrain from comparing this to such up-market brand plays. This is different.

An Open Letter From An Actual Starbucks Front-Line Employee

You have just got to read “Advice to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz”. It’s written by Sun Min Kimes, a barista at a Starbucks in Virginia. I read much of her piece as an implicit (and occasionally explicit) indictment of the 15th Avenue launch, because her Starbucks (and doubtless many others) are already tied to their communities. She recognizes there are many opportunities for improvement, most of which is great advice for anyone wanting to deliver better customer experiences:

  • communicate more with workers, perhaps through a regular internal newsletter
  • provide ongoing education and training
  • empower Starbucks managers to do more to appeal to their specific communities
  • during busy hours, designate a “drip coffee” line [YES! YES! YES!]
  • launch nationwide advertising campaigns
  • focus the retail items on what actually moves
  • better plans for rewarding frequent visitors

When Corporate Speaks, It’s Hard To Listen

Contrast Ms. Kines heartfelt commentary with the flaccid corporate-ese of Starbucks designer Liz Muller, creator of the 15th Avenue aesthetic.

So 1st and Pike is Chopped Liver?

A lot has been made of the aesthetic of the new 15th Avenue store, locally sourced materials, more inviting aesthetic. One of the commenters on my original post pointed to this illuminating profile of architect Arthur Rubinfeld, president of global development at Starbucks. In it, they discuss the redesigned store at 1st and Pike, a handsome offering that’s also in line with Starbucks sustainability mission. To me, it proves that you can bend and flex the Starbucks brand to engage new aesthetics… So what, again, is the purpose of 15th Avenue?

Oh, the irony

And then there was this delightful tweet that I just had to pass along:

beveragemktg: Just noticed that if you go to the 15th Ave Coffee website and click on the Google map, the street view shows a Starbucks. That’s funny.

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