Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz won't say what the Starbucks of the future will
Or taste like. Or even smell like.
But even with his company rolling in record profits and record sales, with 18,000 stores in 62 countries -- a time when it might seem like he could sit back and enjoy the results of his 31 years with Starbucks -- he admits to having gee-whiz plans on the drawing board. Not that the ultra-savvy innovator will publicly discuss them in any detail.
"Sure, we're doing work now on the store of the future," says Schultz, whose company's stock price is near an all-time high and whose market cap is around $43 billion. "It is not only linked to the physical but the digital experience."
The store has not been built. There is no working model. And the project doesn't even have a name. "You'll know it's a Starbucks store, but you'll know that you'll be walking into a significant evolution," he says.
The parameters are wide but the central focus is very clear, he says: "If we were competing with Starbucks, what would we do?"
No resting on laurels
Success, he says, means never standing still. That's a concept that all innovators -- large or small -- must embrace, says Schultz. Many of the changes to come to the Starbucks brand will be related to new technologies -- some of which, like mobile payment, are already in motion. Many of the changes will be related to health and wellness. And some of the changes will relate to Starbucks as a broader consumer brand. In an exclusive interview, Schultz spoke candidly with USA TODAY about being an innovator and icon -- and just how far he believes he can stretch the Starbucks brand without breaking it.
"Our history is based on extending the brand to categories within the guardrails of Starbucks," says Schultz, 59. But the key to success is to remain true to the brand, he says, "and not abuse the trust people have by going off and doing things not consistent with the heritage of coffee."
Starbucks has been burned -- more than once -- by going that latter route.
Starbucks quickly went in and out of the movie business. It tried selling an adult-focused, specialized chocolate beverage that flopped. It even concocted a carbonated coffee drink that failed.
"No one in America wanted to drink it," recounts Schultz. "We have tons of it still lying around."
But here's the key: Failure didn't make Schultz innovation-adverse. Schultz has never stopped pushing the innovation edges. Much innovation at Starbucks over the next few years will be focused on health and wellness products. "You'll see it in many forms," he says, declining to be specific. "Starbucks has a license to participate in this."
Some of that innovation will be related to the recently acquired Evolution juice brand -- which could stretch into categories beyond juice such as healthy foods, snacks and beverages, Schultz says. But one of those categories will not be vitamins, he adds.
The bulk of Starbucks' innovation over the next several years will be technology-focused, Schultz says. Not surprising for a company that claims an astounding 54 million Facebook fans globally.
"We are witnessing a seismic change in consumer behavior," he says. "That change is being brought about by technology and the access people have to information."
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