When you walk into a Subway sandwich shop, you know exactly what to expect. The color scheme, the way the menu is written, even the wall décor. There may be some differences based on the store’s size or shape but from city to city, Subway pretty much looks the same. The same goes for many other chains- there is a clear formula to how these stores designed their space. Making stores look alike is an old trick chains use to help foster familiarity. It’s been shown that people feel at ease when a store seems familiar- it makes the store feel like part of their routine. You know what to expect, know how to behave within the environment, and feel like you understand a sort of store code.
Starbucks was one of the many American companies to use the formula design strategy as it rapidly expanded across the country. Nearly identical stores popped up all over the place, creating a recognizable haven for developing Starbucks devotees. Loyalists knew they’d find the same laptop-friendly tables, the same menu and the same general atmosphere no matter which store they visited. And the strategy worked: Starbucks has become one of the most iconic brands in the US, in terms of both its logo and its recognizable format. Consumers grew incredibly loyal, craving the Starbucks store environment just as much as the company’s actual products.
So imagine my surprise when I walked into a Starbucks a month or so ago and saw this:
Where is the green? Where are the familiar chairs? All of it… gone! For a company that built itself on similarity and uniform culture, this place sure looked different. The store had been transformed into a very different environment, full of leather wall hangings and fancy chairs. This particular Starbucks had broken out of the mold of “recognizable coffeehouse” and veered toward “notable experience.” I asked a barista what was going on and found out that this store was a prototype for shops that sell the Reserve line of fancier coffee. He also said he thought the company might be trying to tailor the store somewhat based on its location. Makes total sense: uniformity was the key to initial success, but that story is old news now. The company needs something new to pique interest and keep consumer interest in a world of artisanal coffee shops and hip java hangouts. In a time when experiential elements and “uniqueness” are key, it’s time for a new formula. Curious to see if it works!