Starbucks is launching different stores depending on how classy your area is

Patrons at a Starbucks in Washington DC wonder when the coffee theatre will begin. Image: EWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages.

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. 


Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.

School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.