Monday, 1 February 2010

Change a-foot

You walk in from the cold, wet street, breathing in the familiar smell as you flap your umbrella and step over the threshold. Immediately, you feel happier and calmer. Maybe its the warmth combined with the soft, gentle lighting or the friendly smile you receive as you enter. Either way, you feel your mood lift ever so slightly as you enter. Approaching the counter, you pause; weighing up the options, waiting to see what takes your fancy. You order and take your concoction from the wooden bar top to a round leather topped coffee table. Your seat is a comfy grass green velvet armchair that welcomes you into its plush cushions. You settle yourself, sigh contentedly and sip at your coffee through the mountain of whipped cream that comes as standard.

Up until recently, this could have been used to describe any of the hundreds of generic Starbucks stores across the UK. In fact, possibly the world! But things are set to change on a street near you. Now, I'm not the biggest Starbucks fan, I'm the first to admit. It's not like I've got a personal vendetta against them as a concept but more their approach. I hate the way they have infected towns and cities the length and breadth of the country. Nowhere is safe from their identi-kit coffee shops and ominous green logo. Even our out of town supermarkets have fallen to the Starbucks trend - out on the front line of family food, you can now buy Starbucks branded coffee beans with your weekly shop. My real bug bare is that they've been driving independent cafés out of business for years. Consumes lean towards the familiar so more often than not, they will go for the household name rather than the wildcard. Variety is the spice of life, my friends!

So why am I taking interest now, you might ask. Well, Starbucks are clever. Design-wise, their stores are fitted out to be appealing. Soft relaxing lighting, warm earthly colours and trendy downbeat music; it appeals to us on a base level while the slightly kooky but quality furniture makes us feel like its a cool place to be. You could walk into pretty much any Starbucks across its worldwide fleet and it will have the same furniture, same light-fittings, identical floor to ceiling wall 'painting' (actually a sticky-backed plastic transfer). This makes sense on all business levels; their corporate identity is controlled and strictly regimented while also allowing them to buy everything in bulk - very cost effective.

But the winds of change are starting to blow. Starbucks have weathered the economic storm and times haven't been quite so sunny in the land of the latte. The recession and closure of the Borders bookshop chain (where Starbucks had nearly 40 outlets) hit them hard leading to their decision to close approximately 900 stores worldwide. Only a few weeks ago, however, Starbucks announced earnings in the region of £149m. More interestingly (to me, anyway!) was the news of their new program for development in 2010. A visit to their new Conduit Street café in London tells of a different Starbucks to hit the cappuccino-supping streets. It's interior is distinctive, an individual café to fit in with the surrounding atmosphere and context. What's more, the chain plans to make-over a further 100 stores nationwide over the coming year. Schultz, the brands founder, says that the new look outlets will be "a reflection of realising that the relationship we want to have with our customers should harken back to a sense of community, [a] unique store environment." As I said, variety is the spice of life! Watch this space.

1 comment:

Sublime Monkey said...

I have to say I am a user of a supermarket Starbucks, but more as a refuge than through the impression I'm somewhere trendy and unique. Interesting article, I hope it works for them, that said, some places just dont have enough identity to be able to work successfully with a unique looking cafe. You want the Starbucks in Slough to reflect the local feel? Probably not.

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