Have you ever wondered what goes into designing your favorite Starbucks store? Or how they can be so unique from each other in shape, style, and form? Well this past week I had the amazing opportunity to sit in with the Western Pacific Starbucks Store Design Team in the Seattle corporate headquarters and learn just that!
It was such a treat to meet senior designer Brian van Stipdonk and get a tour of the store design floor before sitting in on his team’s weekly design meeting. Starbucks store design teams are divided regionally so the partner’s (Starbucks employees) can better know and reflect their region’s culture + character in their designs. I also learned that though there is a large store design team representing China still in the building, most every other country has their design partners within their borders.
So what do the store design teams do everyday you might wonder? Are they constantly drawing up new stores to put on the remaining available street corners? ;) Well, not really.
Stipdonk told me that the majority of the time the store designers are redesigning, updating, and remodeling their current stores that are already, in this case, in my PNW neighborhoods. During the meeting I had a great view of what that process looked like! (The Starbucks pictures interspersed throughout this post are not the stores discussed in my meeting.)
Going down the meeting task list, each designer brought out the projects they were currently working on and discussed the details, challenges, and pros/cons with their fellow partners. Since you probably love this “how it works” type of things like me, I’ve shared the gist of the tasks below!
Task #1: Repainting a corner Starbucks store. For this project the partner pulled out a heavy duty Sherwin Williams color fan deck and decided which grays would go together to cover the “old school” green and beige that encompassed the building. They chose two darker toned grays that would make that store pop on its street corner.
Task #2: Minimal floor plan renovation. Many Starbucks are placed into already existing buildings where the layouts are sometimes tricky to work with. In this particular store, money was not going to be spent on the structure or floors, but on moving/changing a sink, the safe, and the seating. From what I saw, seating can be the biggest challenge for the store designers. They’re told how many seats are needed and have to work with the catalog seating (arm chairs, community tables, different stools, sit bars, small tables, etc.) available to them in their company catalog. They would make great use of tracing paper to see how the different tables could fit in various places of the floor plan. They’d pass pens and ideas to one another until they figured out the optimal setup for the store.
Task #3: A remodel in an Oregon store. Like any remodel (well… in it’s category at least..) this one had a particular budget to stick with. In effort to save money they opted to not change the ceiling or floors, but instead focus the money on moving walls, doors, and changing the seating.
A funny conversation was brought up a few times by the team regarding how bars that stared at walls rather than windows were terribly awkward for the coffee drinker. The senior designer, perhaps in slight jest, said he thought they were just as nice! I agree with the team. How can you do any quality people watching while drinking coffee staring at wall?! ;)
Task #4: An extensive remodel of the Kingston (near the ferry terminal) Starbucks: This particular project was fun to see unfold. The designers pulled out different wood and stone samples as they discussed the material options for the tables, bar, floors, chairs and counters. If you’re like me, then those moments make you VERY excited. Loved it.
In a paused moment, I asked if there was a hardfast rule on how many types of wood and textures there can be in a store. They replied that though there isn’t a rule, the less the better. They continued to discuss the new lighting options, keeping in mind the existing rope textures (nautical/rain forest region) as well as the chair textures to keep the space cohesive. They agreed that those green soft chairs would flow with the regional character of the store.
Task #5: This last task gave me a broader understanding of what these designers need to know in order to design a store that is perfect in form and function. Yes, they are always looking at way the store can be ascetically pleasing to the customer, but they are also very focused on how the store works for the barristas. They decide where the blenders, mini fridge, water taps, and espresso machines go. They strategically place the ice buckets so the Clover station and the espresso station don’t have to dance around each other to get their jobs done. They also need to know how the plumbing and electrical run through the store so they can position all the equipment accordingly. Phew! That’s a lot of layers.
So next time you’re in a Starbucks store you can take a look around and see the details that are pointedly thought on by a store designer (and maybe even question “why hasn’t this been changed yet!?”). What is your favorite ascetic of a Starbucks store you’ve been in? Do tell below! Also, if you are interested, here’s a fun article about some destination Seattle Starbucks locations with the senior designer, Brian van Stipdonk, I met with!
Happy coffee drinking!
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