Be the competition

Be the competition

Have you heard about Starbucks’ new concept store called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea? When I first learned about the initiative a few months back I thought it was another shot at trying to regain a shine that’s lost its luster over the past couple of years.

However, after reading Starbucks: Howard Schultz vs. Howard Schultz in BusinessWeek, I realized how brilliant of a move this is. Schultz basically pulled together a team of Starbucks employees, gave them a small budget and challenged them to create a coffee shop that could compete with Starbucks. Oh yeah, as the Starbucks’ brass stayed out of it. What better way to ask how can we be better than to immerse yourself in the mind of a fledgling competitor.

Now, of course, we don’t all have the budgets and resources of a company like Starbucks, but think about this for a few minutes. What would you do differently if you were entering your market today? How would you compete against, well, you? When you enter in that fresh thinking and start-up energy, all kinds of ideas come about. Remember how it was when you first started your company? Ideas always outnumbered hours available. Too often a rapidly growing and wildly successful business forgets to pack innovation into its portfolio. Just ask GM.

We also tend to spend lot of time worrying about the competition. What new products are they launching? Look who they’ve hired? How did they win that business? What are they’re annual revenues? How can they support a staff like that? What are they doing differently? Why is everyone talking about them?

Perhaps we should forget all of that for a bit. Sure it’s great data, but what do we do with it and how does it apply to us? After failed attempts of going head-to-head in the breakfast food category with the likes of McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts and continuing to build, build, build aa the economy started pushing back in the other direction, Schultz hit a homerun with this idea. What better way to understand where your market is shifting than by reinventing with a completely different concept. Quite frankly, there’s no way he could have done this under the Starbucks name. It would have been too risky and would have been another way of alienating even more customers—after all, regardless of the negative news your hear and read, there are still long lines at most Starbucks.

What would your competition have to do to knock you off your game? Figure it out and then go and do it. Let’s call it innovative innovation.

Here’s a video introducing the new store concept:



  • Christy Brewer says:
    August 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    This is insanely hard to do, unless, as you point out, you remove yourself from the existing company. Saturn was really good at this for a while; as soon as it was brought into the GM fold is when things started going sour.

    I once worked for a company that created a competing company, created a name, and "studied" it. Not the same thing. You can't pick on your competitor to do this exercise successfully. You have to *be* your competitor.

    In other words, I agree this is a great way to study up, and a great post!

  • Starbucks has been trying to branch out into breakfast foods, wines, and beers, but it's really hard to do because they've cornered themselves into the high-end, on-the-go coffee market.

    I really like how 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea has tried to remove itself from the Starbucks brand, but once people recognize that its affiliation with Starbucks, how effective is this project really going to be?

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