Case Detail

Case Summary

Growing Big While Staying Small: Starbucks Harvests International Growth

Case Number: 5-309-503, Year Published: 2009

HBS Number: KEL447

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Authors: Richard Honack; Sachin Waikar

Key Concepts

Starbucks, International Starbucks, Starbucks History, Marketing a Global Brand, Growing Internationally, Starting a Global Brand, Thinking Global Acting Local, Sustaining Brand Reputation


By early 2009 Starbucks had nearly 17,000 stores worldwide, with about a third of these outside the United States. Despite multibillion-dollar annual revenues, the giant coffee retailer’s yearly growth had declined by half, quarterly earnings had dropped as much as 97 percent, same-store sales were negative, and its stock price was languishing. Factors such as a global economic downturn and increasing competition in the specialty coffee market from large players such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts had driven this decline, resulting in the closings of hundreds of domestic stores already, with many more planned. Founder Howard Schultz, who had recently returned as CEO, and his executive team were convinced that Starbucks’s growth opportunities lay overseas, where the firm already had a strong foothold in markets like Japan and the United Kingdom and was preparing to open hundreds of new stores in a variety of locations. But recent international challenges, including the closing of most Australian stores due to sluggish sales, made clear that Starbucks had more to learn about bringing its value proposition—a combination of premium coffee, superior service, and a “coffeehouse experience”—to foreign soil. The key question was not whether Starbucks could transport its value proposition overseas, but how the value proposition’s three elements would play in recently entered and new markets. And the stakes of making the right international moves rose with each U.S. store closure. Schultz and his team also faced a broader question, one that applied to both their U.S. and foreign stores: Could they “grow big and stay small,” remaining a huge retailer that delivered both high-quality products and a consistently intimate and enjoyable experience to consumers worldwide? This case presents this challenge in the context of Starbucks’s history, well-established value proposition, and domestic and international growth and vision.

Learning Objectives

The key objectives of the case focus on the successful growth of local city brand, to a country brand, to a global brand, leaving the questions:

  1. How much more can it grow?
  2. Can it?
  3. What is the impact of new competitors in a given market and/or the impact of the global economy on discretionary spending by a loyal customer base?
  4. How important is it to the sustain a brand’s core value(s) proposition when innovating for new audiences and customer preferences?

Number of Pages: 22

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Entrepreneurship, Management, Marketing

Geographic: Global

Industry: Restaurant

Organization Name: Starbucks Coffee

Organization Size: Large

Decision Maker Position: Founder, Chairman, CEO

Decision Maker Gender: Male

Year of Case: 2009