The soft launch rebrand of Starbucks hits London

A bit of chatter out there about how Starbucks, which has had a rough few years, has quietly launched a new shop on London’s Conduit Street. You can see some pics of the new cafe on Tiki Chris’s Flickr page. They did this first in New York a few months ago, with a cafe that you would have barely realised was a Starbucks cafe.

Judging by the pics, it is a subtle-ish revamp – more communal spaces, like shared tables, more trendy lighting and furniture, a darker and warmer feel to the place, more books and so on.

Will it work? I have no idea but I do think there are a couple of interesting points here. First, Starbucks is applauded for at least being bold enough to rethink what they are doing. When the chain first started expanding outside of its Seattle base, it traded more on being a cool place to go rather than simply being ubiquitous. When Howard Schulz, its founding chief executive, came back to run the company this was one of his key messages; the chain, he lamented, had loss the “romance and theatre” on which the company was founded.

Second, soft launches are interesting in themselves, a sort of hat tip to the internet age where beta launches of new websites that solicit input from users are part of the creative and business process. Too often, executives are understandably scared to experiment. But being bold enough to try things out is not a bad thing. Of course, Starbucks is a big company that can afford, for the time being at least, to be a bit experimental and, online at least, the instant interaction between users offering input and designers being able to modify accordingly is not something that can be done quite so quickly and easily in the real live world.

From a brand management and business renewal perspective, I’m glad that they are endeavouring to do something a bit beyond what many companies are willing to do.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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