On friday evening, Ryan and I headed out on a mission:
Experience the new Starbucks on Capital Hill in Seattle, Wa. --- you know... the one that sells beer and wine.
And so it began...
click to read about it ---------------------------------------------->
First, parking in/around/near the Starbucks was a complete nightmare. I think we ended up finding a spot some 4 blocks away.
Upon first arrival, you can't help but notice the design differences - a complete departure from the standard design. The classic Starbucks interior, a staple of the business model, familiar to all, is not to be seen. Instead, Starbucks has taken a "global means local" approach, with all of the art, countertops, stools, benches, cabinets, walls, decor... literally everything is sourced from local artisans. The result is actually pretty cool -- a somewhat darker, more industrial, but still very inviting atmosphere.
Ryan and I took a quick walk around the newly designed store, and then parked ourselves on the last two stools of the wine & beer bar. The bar was actually pretty full, but didn't feel claustrophobic. It was quiet and we were pleasantly greeted by the bar tender. Using the word "bar" is misleading. This feels much more like a cozy, sophisticated wine bar, without the stuffy sophistication, and while everyone was quite social, it didn't have a club or college bar-like feeling, where you have to keep up your guard.
There were about 8 wines total, and another 5-6 beers. You could buy wine by the glass, or by the bottle -- most all of the wines were WA. wines, except for one from CA. and a Malbec from Argentina. None of the beers were on tap, they were all local microbrews from the bottle, served in chilled glasses. Additionally, the new Starbucks now sells local Cheese, Meat, and Olive plates.
Prices for the Wine ranged from $5-8 per glass. Beer was $4-6 per bottle. Cheese and Meats were a little more expensive... the number $12 is coming to me. Maybe it was $8.
So then the game was on.... we were on a mission to get as much information out of the bartender as possible -- who was quite accommodating and knowledgable.
Q: Can I buy the Starbucks-branded wine and beer glasses?
A: No, not yet... but of course corporate has asked us to keep track of how many people ask..... and its almost everyone.
Q: I see you have some very nice commercial wine and beverage refrigerators (I am currently in the market), what brand are those?
A: U-Line (those are some of the best).
Q: Can I drink my alcoholic beverage in other areas of the store? How about outside on the patio?
A: Yes, after 4pm, you can drink anywhere you would like... the sofa, the conference tables... even out on the patio. But, you cannot leave the patio with the beverage.
Q: Where is the Starbucks-branded wine or beer? Cosco has their own label... where is yours?
A: Bartender chuckles... I have a feeling we may see it very soon. We already have our own liqueur.
Q: So... beer, wine.... how about a coffe nudge, or a baily's and coffee?
A: We aren't serving spirits or liqueurs yet. We are starting with the beer and wine, but it doesn't take a grand imagination to start considering the coffee inspired drinks that are possible ;-)
Q: Have you been getting some "rowdys" in here?
A: Not really... not yet... nothing too unreasonable. Actually, there was a big private company party for a bunch of the Starbucks District Managers last week. I think that was the rowdiest bunch we've seen so far!
Q: What has the alcohol-drinking demographic been like?
A: Its hard to say with accuracy, because the neighborhood itself has a specific demographic. We are getting a lot of 30-somethings, biased towards the females.
Q: And how many glasses of wine or beer are they buying?
A: 1-2 seems to be the average.
Q: And which is more popular, wine or beer?
A: The wine has been very popular... as have the cheese and meat plates.
Q: How have things changed since the remodel... since the new business line?
A: The beer, wine and food plates have been very popular, definitely. We've had a lot of international folk in here, travelers, interested in sampling the new business line. Not a lot has changed, but I have noticed that because of the rearrangement of the store, we are getting a lot less of the vagrants and transients in here trying to use the bathroom... which is a good thing.
Q: Has coffee traffic dwindled?
A: No... I have not seen the numbers, but I don't think so. In fact, perhaps its just novelty for the moment, but our traffic has been really strong since reopening.
There may have been a few more questions, but that was the basic run-down. BTW, none of these are exact quotes / verbatim, but I tried to stay as close to the original dialogue as possible.
All in all, the new Starbucks is a big win -- for the consumer and the SBUX. I happily invite Corporate to start engaging these changes across the board, and while I'm sure they will encounter some resistance - some areas more than others - I think America is ready for this. I know Seattle is.
Here are some journalist opinions:
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I work in Software M&A. This is a personal / business blog.