When Starbucks was in the early stages of its national expansion, it still was the cool place to be.
Hanging out and being seen in a Starbucks meant that you were sophisticated (perhaps beyond your years), hip, music-savvy and upscale in your tastes.
Every community, it seemed, wanted its own Starbucks. And when the company didn’t come calling, civic leaders would get on their high horses and demand that a store be brought to town.
But as Starbucks coffee houses became as ubiquitous as McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts, the coolness factor, well, cooled. Worse, Starbucks began to be seen as a competitor of McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts — not only by the general public, but also by those businesses.
So, as Starbucks customers were leaving for “cooler” places to hang, McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts targeted the coffee giant in their advertising and marketing, as well as with their menus.
It was a double dose of marketplace reality that resulted in Starbucks’ founder returning to a key decision-making role and the company re-embracing its customer-focused roots. There’s still a lot about Starbucks that cries out, “Corporate!” but that old vibe is slowly returning as the company seeks to replicate the product quality and level of service that once made it stand out.
And now, in its hometown of Seattle, Starbucks is seeking to break the mold once again by introducing a new type of store — one that will sell beer and wine in addition to coffee.
Only you won’t find “beer” or “wine” in its name — and you’ll barely be able to recognize it as a Starbucks location. It’s dubbed “15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks.”
Plans call for about a half-dozen types of beer and wine to be sold for between $4 and $7 per glass, with an emphasis on Northwest bottlings. The obvious goal is to boost sales during the evening hours, traditionally the slowest day part for Starbucks.
Two other Seattle locations are planned as part of the store testing.
The concept itself is not new. European cafes have been selling coffee by morning and wine by night for years. But it’s not all that common in the U.S., and Starbucks wants to see if the concept will boost its bottom line as the morning day part becomes ever more competitive.
One independent Seattle area coffee house owner was not impressed — not that you’d expect him to be. He described the new concept as a “stealth Starbucks.”
It was not meant as a compliment.