Virtual Road Trip: Building a Brand in China One Store at a Time

China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization – from its beginnings more than 4,000 years ago as a small settlement near the Yellow River, to a nation that spans a vast and varied subcontinent and numbers over 1.3 billion people.

This ancient culture is going through a creative and commercial transformation, as glass and steel skyscrapers climb high amongst traditional wooden architecture of China’s booming cities.

Starbucks opened its first store in China in the capital city of Beijing 15 years ago, and now has nearly 1,300 stores across the country. The company plans to have 1,500 stores in the country by 2015, which would make China its largest market outside the United States.

John Boline, director of Starbucks Concept Design Team, leads Starbucks China Design Studio’s talented team of designers in Shanghai.

“Our mission is to enrich the Starbucks Experience in China and deepen our emotional connection with our customers with each new store we create,” Boline said. “We strive to create a perfect harmony of a local coffeehouse, reflecting the aspirational global Starbucks brand and our deep coffee heritage to cultivate an authentic coffee culture.”

Boline takes us on a tour of some of the country’s innovative store designs:

Tianfu Riverfront, Chengdu

Chengdu is one of the largest cities in China, located in the hinterlands of fertile Chengdu Plain in Sichuan Province. The city was founded 2,400 years ago when the first emperor built his capital here, and it remains an important center in southwest China for business, transportation, communications, culture and education. Nature is a part of the bustling city, with gingko trees and green spaces amongst the high rises and traditional wooden buildings.

Near Tianfu Square in the center of the city is the Tianfu Riverfront Starbucks® store. The location along the Jinjiang River is composed of two freestanding buildings with a river-facing balcony designed to take advantage of the scenic view. Architectural elements such as sliding windows and doors help to create visual relationships between the two spaces and encourage moments of connection.

“Our inspiration came from a coffee farm and roasting plant,” said Boline. “We used earth colors and reclaimed wood planks along with handmade artwork and crafts to create an expressive and welcoming environment.”

Locally relevant cultural elements are used in merchandise displays and thoughtful artwork engages customers. Reclaimed wood planks, wood beams and concrete floors bring authentic, sustainable materials to this store. Folding windows and doors, and ceiling fans, promote natural ventilation throughout the space.

Dongguan Golf Club

More than 1,000 miles southeast of Chengdu is the city of Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta, a short train ride north of Hong Kong. Mission Hills Resort Dongguan stretches over an expansive golf complex features seven 18-hole resort and championship courses designed by golf's greatest legends and architects.

The Starbucks at Mission Hills Resort Dongguan is the first store in China opened in a golf club. The store is inspired by its natural surroundings, with a green wall as a focal point of the store. There are no windows, doors or air conditioning, as the site is an open concept that allows for fresh air to flow through the store.

Boline said the intent was to create a natural and casual space for customers to relax in an open environment.

“The active lifestyle of golf club customers was taken into consideration throughout the design process, driving decisions such as using outdoor furniture inside the store,” he said.

OCT Bay, Shenzhen

Just south of Dongguan is the city of Shenzhen. OCT Bay is located along the scenic coast of South China Sea and Shenzhen Bay in the Nanshan District, near the Window of the World theme park and the several other attractions.

This project sits within an entertainment, restaurant and shopping district that draws customers from all over the South China region and beyond. The design was chosen to reflect the local harbor, with curving fluid elements of water and land in the complex.

“Taking cues from the bay, we created and energetic and vibrant canopy of elements that flow from the exterior to the interior of the space,” Boline said. “Customers are engaged as they journey from the wall-of-glass entry, to the bar, and finally to the cozy seating areas.”

The most dramatic element is the curvilinear and flowing metal soffit that welcomes customers at the entrance and invites them through the space to the bar. The color and finish of this element is inspired by an espresso machine, while the shape echoes the flow of water. The coffee story is told through the large format mural of young green coffee plants at the entry, dark roast pictures in the merchandise and lounge area, the rich blue tiles at the bar, and finally with inviting wood walls at the curving lounge seating in the back.

“Every store is an expression of our passion to share our coffee knowledge and culture with Chinese customers,” Boline said.

Did you know?

  • Wild giant pandas still live in the bamboo forests surrounding the great Sichuan Plain.
  • The Pearl River gets its name from the pearl colored shells that lie at the bottom of the river as it winds through the city of Guangzhou.
  • Shenzhen’s Windows of the World theme park features reproductions of landmarks from around the world – from the Eiffel Tower, to the Ancient Pyramids of Egypt, to the Manhattan skyline.

For your travels

This summer, customers in China can enjoy a refreshing Hojicha Earl Grey Jelly Cream Frappuccino® blended beverage, featuring Hojicha tea’s mild fragrant flavor and chewy Earl Grey jelly.

Our next stop

From nearby Hong Kong International Airport (be sure to stop at the Starbucks store in Terminal 1), we’ll journey east to visit Starbucks stores in the Land of the Rising Sun.

thumbnail for How Starbucks made a splash with its new (and blue!) summer drink with popping pearls

How Starbucks made a splash with its new (and blue!) summer drink with popping pearls