In the UK, there's a long-running urban myth that the skirts on sale in department store chain Marks & Spencer get shorter the further north you go. Now, Starbucks has developed its own version of this corporate Mean Girls strategy: it’s going to tailor its “store formats” according to how classy it thinks your area is.
According to a press release on the firm’s website, it’s rolling out three new store formats over the next couple of years. The “Starbucks Reserve™ Roastery and Tasting Room” will launch in Starbucks’ hometown of Seattle this winter. This, according to chairman Howard Schultz, will be a “super premium experience” including an “education and retail space” and “coffee theatre” (we don’t know what this is either). Such branches will only serve small batches of specially grown coffee, roasted on site.
One step down the ladder are the 100 “super-premium Starbucks Reserve®” stores the company plans to open in “strategic markets” over the next five years. They’ll also serve drinks made from small-batch coffee beans; tragically, though, they won’t offer an education centre, roastery or coffee theatre.
Here’s a picture of the outside of a Starbucks Reserve store, confirming our suspicions that this “super-premium” image necessitates a bit of a departure from Starbucks' standard branding:
New York will be the testing ground for the final, least sophisticated format: “express stores”, aimed at commuters. These will focus on offering “convenience to customers” rather than boutique beans. This means digital payment systems, the ability to pre-order coffee on your phone, and, one can only hope, shorter queues at peak times. The first will open at the beginning of 2015.
The company's on track to net 1,550 new stores by the end of the 2014 financial year, and a further 1,600 net new stores the following year. But only a fraction will be any of these new formats, so most of us will still be deemed average enough to warrant a bog-standard Starbucks.
This isn't the first time Starbucks has adjusted its brand to suit specific locations. In China, the firm is known as a luxury coffee brand, for the simple reason that a standard latte costs a dollar more than it does in the US; this, once you’ve taken local pay rates into account, is around five times as expensive.
Should the firm choose to use similar-scale luxury pricing in its fancy Seattle store, drinks would cost around $31. Expensive? Perhaps – but a small price to pay for a super premium experience.