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M i n i C as e 4

Starbucks: Re-creating Its Uniqueness

INSPIRED BY ITALIAN COFFEE BARS, Starbucks’s founder Howard Schultz set out to provide a completely new consumer experience. The trademark of any Starbucks coffeehouse is its ambience—where music and comfortable chairs and sofas encourage customers to sit and enjoy their coffee beverages. While hanging out at Starbucks, they can use the complimentary wireless hotspot or just visit with friends. The barista seems to speak a foreign language as she rattles off the offerings: Caffé Misto, Caramel Macchiato, Cinnamon Dolce Latte, Espresso Con Panna, or a Mint Mocha Chip Frappuccino, among some 30 different coffee blends. Dazzled and enchanted, customers pay $4 or more for a Venti-sized drink. Starbucks has been so successful in creating its ambience that customers keep coming back for more. Starbucks’s core competency was to create a unique consumer experience the world over. That is what customers are paying for, not for the cup of coffee or tea. The consumer experience that Starbucks created was a valuable, rare, and costly-to-imitate intangible resource. This allowed Starbucks to gain a competitive advantage. While intangible resources are often built through learning from experience, intangible resources can atrophy through forgetting. This is what happened to Starbucks. Recently, Starbucks expanded operations by opening over 16,000 stores in some 50 countries. It also branched out into desserts, sandwiches, books, music, and other retail merchandise, straying from its core business. Trying to keep up with its explosive growth in both the number of stores and product offerings, Starbucks began to forget what made it unique. It lost the appeal that made it special, and its unique culture got diluted. For example, baristas used to grind beans throughout the day whenever a new pot of coffee had to be brewed (which was at least every eight minutes). The grinding sounds and fresh coffee aroma were trademarks...
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