We went into the new Starbucks on Michigan Avenue in Chicago a couple of weeks ago looking for a cup of coffee – and learned an important lesson for independent retailers while we were there.   The welcoming brochure for the Chicago Starbucks Reserve Roastery states that it is all about The Experience, The Spectacle, The Craft and The Coffee – and it turned out that the experience and spectacle are in greater abundance than the ability to make an efficient purchase.

This huge 35,000 square foot Starbucks occupies the once legendary flagship location of Crate and Barrel.   Happily we missed opening day, which drew some 10,000 people.  But it was still necessary to have a greeter at the door suggesting that we start at the top and work our way down. That meant that we rode up on the curved escalator to the first floor, before continuing upward on more traditional escalators.  To tell the truth, the curved escalator was my favorite part of the new facility’s contemporary, almost steampunk design.  However there is no matching down escalator, so we actually found it challenging to exit.

According to the Chicago Eater, the Roastery “is part shopping mall and part amusement park. It’s a temple to salesmanship and consumption where customers can pick up a $6,500 espresso machine or grab a cocktail made with Chicago’s patron liquor, Jeppson’s Malört.” One area invites you to “Immerse yourself in the art, science and theater of coffee.”  The retail displays, some of which feature merchandise unique to this extreme version of Starbucks, are reminiscent of an excellent museum store. There is also a cocktail bar offering barrel-aged coffee beverages, following the trend towards offering alcoholic beverages as part of the shopping experience.

We can certainly admire the fact that this Starbucks is creative in its product sourcing and displays, and that it amuses and entertains its visitors.  The architectural design is also quite an accomplishment.  But is this the wave of the future for retailing?  Starbucks itself describes the Chicago Roastery as “a multi-sensory destination of epic proportions…five stories of coffee theater. Both workshop and stage, it is a three-dimensional window into the coffee journey.”  But sometimes you don’t want “a spectacular journey through inventive beverages, extraordinary culinary creations, and more.”  As we are encouraged to add more bells and whistles to our retail operations, we need to not lose sight of the fact that some customers just want to make a quick, simple purchase.  We came for coffee, and left empty handed. 

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder