I’m fascinated with Starbucks.
First, they’ve done an amazing job building a luxury brand that people aren’t ashamed of consuming. Everything about their operation feels authentic.
Second, with the same brand, they’ve made it “aspirational” — middle class people go to Starbucks to feel like the upper class.
To attract both kinds of consumers is a good feat. Although I have not drunken a single cup of coffee my whole life, I still patronize Starbucks regularly at home and overseas. Why? The comfy chairs, the wi-fi, the drink and food options, and relaxing atmosphere. I know it is a totally manicured setting designed to empty my wallet….and I don’t care. I don’t resent it. I like it.
So it was with great anticipation that I read CEO Howard Schultz’s ’97 book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. It’s an easy read with no surprises: it’s Howard’s story growing Starbucks from nothing into a worldwide phenomenon that’s become the Third Place for millions. I learned Shultz was the first to introduce the Italian concept of buying a single cup of coffee (instead of coffee beans) at a store. This was revolutionary at the time and the first-mover advantage probably contributed to Starbucks’ early dominance. There are also good lessons here about figuring out what makes your brand tick and not messing with it. Shultz knew this, which makes some of his moves all the more gutsy: they introduced Starbucks on United Airline flights, they sold beans in supermarkets, they introduced Starbucks ice cream. All these arrangements were done with partners who didn’t have the same, intrinsic commitment to high quality as Starbucks.
At the end I still wonder whether Shultz himself truly understands why the Starbucks brand has proven to be so powerful. For example, he recalls Starbucks’ entry into the Japan market. With no apparent market research or cultural comparison (“We had no idea what ‘Starbucks’ would translate to in Japanese”), they nonetheless found the Japanese market too attractive to pass up, so they opened a test store in Tokyo to see would happen. Shultz remembers standing outside the store in Tokyo on opening day and watching customers stream in. He couldn’t explain it: the circular green logo didn’t lose its swagger overseas.
If you’re looking to start a retail store or if you’re trying to cultivate a luxury brand, Pour Your Heart Into It will be a nice read.