For a while, it seemed like a new Starbucks was opening in the United States every day – to the point where a Starbucks literally opened across the street from another Starbucks and then Barnes & Noble put in a Starbucks next door. But despite comedian Lewis Black taking a swipe at this seemingly ridiculous strategy, Starbucks isn’t afraid of its own rapid growth; in fact, in China, the brand is embracing it – promising to open more than one new Starbucks per day, every day over the next five years in the world’s most populous country. That’s a goal of nearly 5,000 new locations in China by the year 2021 – at which point the company can start plotting its takeover of Mars.
“I think if you look at the 45 year history of our company ... one of the things that we've done really well is that we've always played the long game,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CNN in an interview last week. He admitted it’s been a bit of a slog since the company’s first store opened in the communist nation back in 1999. “We had to educate and teach many Chinese about what coffee was —the coffee ritual, what a latte was…. So in the early years, we did not make money,” he was quoted as saying. “If you look five years ago, most of our business, believe it or not, was expats and tourists in China…. Today, it's mostly Chinese.”
Starbucks currently has over 2,300 stores, making China the brand’s second biggest market after the US, but Schultz has repeatedly stated that he believes the Chinese market will probably eventually swipe the top spot from America. The brand is already plotting to open its first international Starbucks Roastery in Shanghai next year. And on the same day Schultz spoke with CNN, the brand announced the promotion of Belinda Wong to CEO of Starbucks China.
“We believe that the future of Starbucks in China is still very early,” Schultz said. I’m envisioning a China with a Starbucks across the street from another Starbucks connected by a bridge with a Starbucks Express – just in case you need a pit stop between the two.