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Starbucks Gets Theatrical, You Should Too

Starbucks, love ’em or hate ’em, has changed the way we think about coffee.

Starbucks, love ’em or hate ’em, has changed the way we think about coffee. Before the first Seattle coffee chain went global, those who drank coffee went to a local donut shop, a diner, or McDonalds, or they simply poured Folgers crystals into their own Mr. Coffee machine to begin their day.

But Starbucks is more than just the java. Before those little green signs started cropping up everywhere, it was tough to find a good place to go hang out for a few hours. The explosion in mobile computing came along just about the same time Starbucks gained a foothold, turning these elegantly appointed stores into temporary work/study spaces for many of us. Free WiFi, sophisticated music, and a warm atmosphere became just as important as the coffee.

Starbucks was a leader in the experience economy, but now it’s becoming a bit of a follower as it looks to capitalize on the “increasing sophistication of American taste,” with its new Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle. According to Stephanie Strom’s article in the New York Times, the new concept store recasts Starbucks as “a source for rare, hand-crafted coffees,” along the lines of other boutique chains like Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Dillanos Coffee Roasters, and Blue Bottle Coffee that have already developed thriving businesses in what are known as single-origin coffees and microlots.

Similar to the craft brewing trend in the beer business, it’s now hip to offer small-batch specialty coffee for a more discerning customer that’s willing to spend more money. Sound familiar? Even as the products you sell become commoditized, your value proposition as a custom integrator is selling the specialty experience. Sure, there’s a DIY threat on the rise, but you’ll always hold the keys to the more discerning, craft-minded client willing to spend more for higher quality products and personalized services.

“Part retail store, part manufacturing facility, and part theater,” the new Starbucks Roastery “intentionally evokes the chocolate room where Augustus Gloop met his fate in Willy Wonka’s candy factory,” Strom writes. Transparent tubes snake up out of the floor and under the ceiling, carrying green coffee beans to “copper-clad roasters” and roasted beans to the coffee bars “scattered like islands around the 15,000-squarefoot space.”

“We’re going to take the customer on a journey, immersing them in an interactive environment where they’ll be introduced to handcrafted, small-batch coffees within feet of where they’re being roasted,” Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz is quoted as saying.

The company plans to charge between $4 and $7, depending on the exclusivity of the beans in its Reserve line. Right now the only satellite store planned outside of Seattle is in San Francisco, but the company plans to build 100 locations in major cities around the world.

I love a good cup of Joe or a well-crafted beer as much as the next guy, but I’m most intrigued by the theatrical aspect of Starbucks’ new concept store. As you’re selling theaters to clients, are you remembering to be theatrical, too?