Friday, April 11, 2003

Starbucks clones in Paris.

Long term readers will be aware that I am interested in the spread of chain stores throughout the world, and that I am of the belief that the more international chains you find in a city, the more culturally sophisticated and interesting a place it is likely to be. (The most interesting global chains are the upscale ones: those that only exist in a small number of countries, and usually only in large urban areas in those cities, these being the only places where they can find a large enought concentration of the particular type of upscale consumer they need).

This leads me to further discussion of Starbucks. Starbucks don't quite fit into that category, but they are actually a pretty upscale chain as these things go. They are spreading around the world by a strategy they describe as clusterbombing. What this means is that they enter particular countries, and cities within those countries, by opening up a substantial number of stores in the same city within months of opening their first. A consequence of this is that if you visit certain cities in certain countries, then it is easy to imagine that Starbucks is omnipresent throughout the world - your thoughts are something along the idea that if there is one on every street corner here, they will be slightly less dense in a slightly smaller city, slightly less dense still in a city a little smaller, and so on. In fact though, the "on every street corner" situation is all there is. It is that or nothing. (This is perhaps less true in North America than elsewhere).

Starbucks target cities one at a time. There is clearly a market for them in quite a few cities they haven't entered yet, and we thus have the "Starbucks clone" phenomenon. In this situation, someone else will set up a chain of coffee shops just like Starbucks in a city that doesn't yet have Starbucks. These are of variable quality. Sometimes the cloners will get it absolutely perfectly (as did the cloners I saw in Hamburg last year, and as did the cloners in the UK who got it so right that Starbucks entered the UK market by simply buying them out. Sometimes it is done less well. The key to getting Starbucks cloning right is to understand that Starbucks are selling the environment - the so called "third place" - as well as selling coffee. The environment is crucial, and has to be got absolutely right, including the temperature, the level of background noise, and (particularly)_the mixture of furniture. And, sadly, the one chain of Starbucks clones I encountered in Paris last week didn't quite get this right - at least, not as right as did the Germans.

The coffee was decent. The furniture, though, missed the mark. The "comfy chair" option was absent. The air conditioning wasn't on. The staff did not seemed well enough versed in making coffee. (They didn't seem to understand the word "latte" when I spoke it and initially gave me the wrong sort of coffee, although most of their customers were anglophones). The latte, when I got it, was quite good, though.

Update: Coincidentally, Virginia Postrel has just mentioned that there is not a single "free standing Starbucks" in Greenville, NC. (Her use of "free standing" suggests that there might be one inside a food court, or inside a Barnes & Noble, or something like that). It therefore looks like my qualification that "This may be less true in North America than elsewhere" is less needed than I thought. Greenville hasn't been clusterbombed yet.

Further Update: I have a few further comments here

Even Further Update: The clusterbombing of Moscow appears imminent.

No comments:

Blog Archive