Explains Brand Design
May 1, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
seminal part of the Starbucks experience is the store itself,
with the comfy furniture, funky décor and way cool music.
Arthur Rubinfeld spent a decade with Starbucks Coffee Co. creating
that experience, as the executive vice president responsible for
planning and executing Starbucks’ retail brand design, positioning,
real estate and store growth strategies. His oversight in building
Starbuck’s Coffee into one of the world’s most recognizable
brands and spearheading Starbucks expansion globally helped establish
Starbucks as the standard-bearer in retail branding, concept growth,
and quality customer service.
Now founder and CEO with Airvision, a consumer product branding
consultancy based in Seattle, Rubinfeld recently published Built
for Growth: Expanding Your Business Around the Corner or Across
the Globe. --- Michael Krauss
did you become architect of the Starbuck’s brand?
My background is in architecture and urban design. I practiced
in SoHo in the ’70s and went to Park Avenue. I got a job
working for Harry Helmsley constructing the Palace Hotel when
I was 28 years old.
I learned architecture is a great hobby and a tough profession.
You are not the decision-maker. I needed to learn more about construction.
I needed to become that owner. Harry Helmsley taught me real estate
(Then I made) a lifestyle decision: I moved to California. San
Francisco is the greatest combination of urbanity and livability
in an urban setting. I started a real estate company. I would
drive around looking at undervalued real estate. I found development
deals. I built a shopping center. We built our firm into the second-largest
retail real estate brokerage in the Bay area. It’s called
Epsteen & Associates, run by Michael Epsteen. In 1991, our
firm started opening Starbuck’s stores in California. I
was an early investor in Starbucks.
Had you known Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz a long time
Howard and I were neighbors in Greenwich Village in our early
20’s. Howard was selling (a) plastic container line (and)
noticed higher-than-usual sales coming out of the Northwest from
a company called Starbuck’s. He fell in love with the product.
Starbuck’s was selling whole bean coffees. Howard came back
from a buying trip to Italy and convinced Starbuck’s three
founders to test ‘coffee by the cup’ in a location
in downtown Seattle. The test went well but the owners were purists.
They wanted to stay with whole bean coffees and teas.
Howard started Il Giornale and got to three stores when the founders
of Starbuck’s decided to sell. I was an early investor in
Il Giornale with Howard.
So it’s 1992 and Howard has fewer than 100 stores, and …
I went up Seattle to explain to this small team of executives
how they should structure their retail real estate. It wasn’t
a job interview; I went up as a friend of Howard’s because
I understand real estate, design and construction.
Howard said, ‘Would you be interested in coming up’
(to Seattle to take a job with the company). Frankly, I was established
north of San Francisco. I said, ‘I don’t know, move
to Seattle to sell coffee by the cup?’ Fortunately, Howard
came back down (to discuss it with me) and I joined in early 1992.
We opened a store in the Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.
With no advertising, over 300 people went in the first day. It
was an ‘aha’ moment.
What did you do when you joined?
I put in place an in-house store design and build capability.
We used in-house architects, construction people and real estate
people. More than 550 people were in my group when I left 10 years
later. We opened close to 4,000 stores.
I was able to drive design using my architecture experience but
mostly it was my environmental psychology experience.
(For example,) I insisted on using round tables, because from
a psychological standpoint you can sit at a round table alone
and not feel lonely or isolated. We consistently challenged ourselves
to be innovative with new designs. There are stories in the book
about how we did the designs and just jumped ahead of the competition.
What’s Built for Growth all about?
Inspiration. It provides step-by-step methodologies to understand
how to position a company (and) what to look for in the people:
What are your core values? (It’s about) how important the
first store is. It’s location. It’s architecture.
It’s experience. A lot of techniques so you don’t
stumble. Most retailers and start-ups stumble in their first six
to eight locations. If you have one or two bad ones it’s
difficult to make (that) up.
How can I learn to grow my own business?
The growth strategies that I implemented at Starbuck’s are
in the book. For example, you need to understand if you do not
have a social, political or environmental connection with the
customer, you’re lost.