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Tea? Or Coffee?

Starbucks entered the Chinese market with the plan to launch 100 stores in the busiest cities. They took the model that worked most everywhere and assumed that it will likely do the same when planted anywhere. As it turned out, they assumed wrong.


Not everyone is like them and surprisingly not everyone likes them. For example, they found that the Chinese didn’t particularly like coffee. They like tea, and this is a big problem, especially if you are a coffee company. They also learned that no one was buying their cup of brew because 1 cup of their bold, branded coffee cost as much as 3 meals. They also found their setting was askew. As it turns out, the Chinese prefer private, sequestered rooms to quietly enjoy their tea along side a quiet, secluded conversation. Starbucks on the other hand likes an open “pub-like” feel bustling with the buzz of communal conversations and the aroma of bold, aromatic coffee. They also didn’t see that the Chinese wouldn’t justify the spend for one cup of Joe when that same amount could buy a package of tea to make a pot of tea, share it with 4 friends, and then reuse that tea again with four other friends.


Starbucks quickly learned they had to change if they wanted to impact the market or they would be obsolete.


Are we the same? Do we as leaders, as people think that our way or the highway is the road less traveled, or are we willing to readjust our voice from a new perch, perhaps a much better perch? Our job in life in life is to be the catalyst that creates a place where the community can autonomously edit the “wiki” at any time and author change for the good of the community. We need to listen to the market, be held accountable, and not only reach back to our historic success to dictate what we knew “it” to be. Maybe what the people want is tea but we force the coffee.


Starbucks went back to the market and adjusted their strategy while not compromising their brand. They began offering tea and other snacks that appealed to the consumer in the hopes of educating the customer on the culture of a good cup of coffee, albeit it expensive. They began to listen so they could begin to catalyze.


We must learn to adjust, adapt, flex, and shift in this current stage of flux or we will become quickly obsolete. Starbucks is still relevant because they listen and adjust with the community instead of telling the community what to drink and how much to spend. That is why they are still relevant. That is why they still catalyze the market. That is why their coffee is still expensive.


I’ll take a bold, venti drip, double cupped with room.


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