Starbucks Supersizes Indie Cred — novel concept eh?

Starbucks Supersizes Indie Cred

Posted by Jennifer Sokolowsky on January 17, 2011 03:30 PM

As Starbucks prepares to scrape its name from its logo, the brand is closing an experimental coffee shop that never even had the Starbucks name to begin with.

In 2009, Starbucks converted one of its Seattle shops, located in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood, into an “inspired by Starbucks” cafe called 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea, which was given a $100,000 makeover to look like an independent coffee shop.

While that’s a drop in the bucket for Starbucks, it would certainly be a huge expenditure for any real independent cafe.

The store, which acted as a lab for new concepts (and novel ideas such as wine-tasting like “coffee cupping” demos) for the brand, was part of its “Street Level” concept stores, and will now be converted back into a regular Starbucks (keeping the expensive makeover), but the company’s experimentation is not over.

It operates another “inspired by Starbucks” European (indie) style cafe in Seattle called Roy Street Coffee & Tea where new ideas (such as a bar-borrowed “Clover precision pour-over” technique, below) can be tested.

At yet another Capitol Hill location in Seattle, a Starbucks shop was recently remodeled, with an emphasis on sustainability, to look more like an independent cafe but maintaining the Starbucks name. The location serves beer and wine in an effort to draw customers in later hours, and it features an expanded menu including artisinal local cheeses, for example. 

Long accused of providing unwinnable competition for small, independent coffee shops, Starbucks now appears to be casting its eye on not only beating them, but joining them. And it’s fascinating to hear its executives refer to dayparts, programming the in-store experience in language used by TV programmers.

Will the giant, simultaneously growing by remodeling its menu with Big Gulp-like “trenta” sizes at its flagship stores, succeed in making itself seem more like the little guy — or a TV channel? Stay tuned.

The irony of this is just tremendous, but maybe I’m just a cynic. Starbucks disguising their big brand image with small, boutique coffee shop elements and local partnerships… just be upfront about it and do more of it is all I ask.

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