The Dutch might be celebrated by most for their progressive take on all things sinful, but it is their highly discerning shopping habits that draw brands to Dutch cities to test innovative concepts. What New York is for showbiz, Holland is for branding. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Starbucks is putting that Dutch brand consumer nous to the test by opening its first global ‘coffee laboratory’ in Amsterdam. Situated in a former bank vault in the chic new Bank development on the popular Rembrandtplein, Starbucks will use the 430sqm shop to test alternative brewing methods, like Europe’s first Clover®, a sort of mechanized French press that its makers claim is the best thing to happen to coffee since the espresso machine, as well as to introduce in-store baking concepts and social media strategies.
What makes the ‘laboratory’ a laboratory is that innovation and experimentation are integrated into the shop’s DNA. What works in Amsterdam will be rolled out to the rest of Europe.
For local café-goers, Starbucks' main attraction, however, will be the shop’s non-cookie-cutter attention to design detail. Under the direction of Dutch-born Liz Muller, Starbucks' concept design director, the subterranean space is a smorgasbord of quirky Dutch design touches like antique Delft tiles, bicycle inner tube walls and ‘Delfts blauw’ murals. All the main fixtures, including the 17m coffee bar and enormous communal table, are constructed out of recycled Dutch oak, and the chairs reclaimed from local schools and spruced up.
Because it’s Starbucks, there will be indie neigh-sayers. But with multi-level spaces that cameo as stages for local bands and a progressive Twitter strategy aimed to entice locals in for fresh cookies, Starbucks The Bank, laboratory or not, may be the most site-specific Starbucks the coffee chain has ever opened.
‘There are no brand manuals, no guidelines, no proscribed colour palettes,’ says Muller. ‘The brief for our concept stores is simply to push the brand, if need be beyond our comfort zone. To create locally relevant stores that integrate local design in a sustainable way. No two concept stores will ever look the same.’
For Muller, Amsterdam is the logical site for its first laboratory. ‘For starters, our European roasting plant is right here, ensuring the freshest beans we can offer. But more important is the local coffee reference: The Dutch East India Company was the first spice and coffee trader in the world.’
Starbucks plans to open more concept stores around the world, but has no set agenda. Muller: ‘We’re open to any place where we can find an intersection between the local culture and our brand.’
Which is a nice way to say, ‘could be anywhere'.