What the Starbucks Strategy in Italy can Teach Us

Starbucks has entered the Italian market, assuming first of all its limitations and the local culture.

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Starbucks has entered the Italian market, assuming first of all its limitations and the local culture

When Starbucks opened its doors in the United States a few decades ago it triumphed because it came with a new concept. Their consumers had not been exposed to a format like the one Starbucks offered. The company gave its users coffee, a place to sit and an experience away from what until then was linked to having a coffee. Howard Schultz, the founder of the chain, had been inspired by his experiences in Europe.

In fact, the how it came to the idea has up to a lot of foundational history and very good storytelling. “One morning of that trip, in Milan, I was walking from the hotel to a trade fair and it occurred to me to go into a small cafeteria,” he explains in his book The Starbucks Challenge.

After the counter, they received him cordially and offered him a coffee made at the time and with great quality. “This is not his job,” I thought, “it’s his passion,” he writes about what he felt while watching the waiter prepare his coffee live. “That was more than a coffee taken between meals,” he told himself.

The Italian experience made him open his eyes to a completely different way of drinking coffee and selling it

That discovery was what made her develop the Starbucks strategy and settle it in the US market. Starbucks was as close as the Americans – or that Schultz sold that – could be to the experience of drinking coffee as in Italy.

Based on this model, it settled in the country and expanded its presence throughout North America. The chain would not reach continental Europe until 2001, when it opened its first space in Zurich, as can be discovered by pulling online newspaper library. The chain chose Switzerland because it already had a coffee culture and hoped to use the experience learned to reach other European countries. A coffee shop where spending hours with a coffee could be very exotic in other markets, but it is quite rare in continental Europe, where the culture of coffee shops and cafes has more than a few decades (and can be go back to the centuries).

Despite this, Starbucks was opening spaces throughout the continent. The different markets and the different big cities were falling under the list of conquests of the chain, although in some cases – and there is no more to think about Spain – a café in a café ‘of a lifetime’ is much more Cheap than a coffee at Starbucks.

While the chain was settling in Europe, even so, nobody analyzed that it was staging a great cultural shock or that it was going to have to assume a greater strength of resistance among the locals. Those analyzes and those forecasts only entered into the discourse when the giant launched into the conquest of Italy.

And that conquest is a very recent movement, but one from which many lessons can be learned. Starbucks has been aware from the start that Italy is a delicate market and one in which the company has to move very carefully. His strategy has been very thoughtful and very measured so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Arrive with humility

A few years ago, Starbucks already announced its plans to enter the Italian market. They were going to open a space in Milan, they pointed out, although it was not yet clear when. What the chain was clear about is that this entry into the Italian market was going to have to be done with a value per capita, that of humility. Starbucks pointed out that he was going to respect the Italian coffee culture and that they would do it “with great humility”.

In the first speeches, even the movement was given (a purely business decision, we must not forget) of an emotional touch. Entering the Italian market was a “dream”, a kind of element that was desired and that was full of feelings. Instead of seeing itself as the movement of a great chain, it looked like a kind of personal and emotional decision.

Starbucks did not even open one of its cafeterias without more, but it did it with one of its premium lines, a Reserve Roastery design. The first few days, as often happens when Starbucks arrives at a new site, had queues, but, as they analyzed on CNN shortly after, Starbucks was unlikely to be a threat to the usual Italian coffee shops.

Starbucks experience

The Milanese coffee culture was going to remain what it was. As noted in the column, what sold the cafeteria was the “Starbucks experience”, the Starbucks experience, which had nothing to do with the Italian culture of coffee.

“We saw it coming, it was inevitable,” explained the owner of a historic café. Just as American pizza chains arrive in Italy, they also took it for granted that Starbucks would arrive. The Milanese Starbucks is a magnet for millennials and for teenage girls, as they explain. The two groups are for reasons to some degree different and somewhat equal.


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