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So, I made my bimonthly trip to the Kansai area of Japan this weekend and had a look at the Starbucks cafe in Kobe city. I also bought about $70 dollars worth of coffee. At least in my little realm, Starbucks is selling the best beans in the country(the country being Japan) and although the price is a bit higher the quality is much higher than anything else I can find. The cheapest beans I can get run about $10 a pound, but the quality is poor. Higher quality stuff runs from $15 to $17 a pound. Starbucks is selling their beans for about $18 to $20 a pound, but the quality is very high.
Anyway, the cafe was packed. It was standing room only with people waiting for tables. There were all age groups of people. Many folks were buying beans as well. There are a few cups, mugs and coffee makers for sale, but very little space is given over to those items.
One of the amazing things about the location is that it isn't on the street, but on the B1 floor of a department store. There is no sign for the cafe anywhere on the street, and I have never seen advertising for Starbucks, yet, the place was and always seems to be packed. Interstingly, outside of the building there are some terraced wooden benches that sit in between the stairs that lead down to the department store. This type of public seating is a bit rare in Japan, what with the high price of land, and I couldn't help but wonder if Starbucks picked that spot because of those benches. I would bet that they did.
Checked on the competition a bit too. My wife noticed in a Kobe tourist magazine that there was a Nescafe cafe that had recently opened on the next block. From the looks of the cafe it would seem that Nestle is serious about trying to challenge Starbucks. It was a very high profile, two story, glass and stainless steel building that had a mod and "hip" look. It had a fair amount of customers, but it wasn't full. When I remarked to my wife(who is Japanese) that they didn't sell beans, she replied," Well, of course not, they use instant." Now, this was not true, as I saw several espresso machines in use, but it does speak a lot to the brand image problems that Nescafe will have to overcome in a challenge to Starbucks. Overall, the Nescafe Cafe looked like a copy. If anything it showed me the strength of the coffee drinking culture that Starbucks is trying to push.
Afterthat, I had my wife take me to the Sazaby store, and its Afternoon Tea Cafe, to have a look at Starbuck's partner. It seems that Starbucks made a good choice in a partner. The place was a reverse Starbucks in that it was mostly a store selling kitcheny and homey stuff with a cafe squeezed in. They also sold expensive handbags and jewelry. Very upscale and generally young clientele. Cafe was also full.
Just one observation from one small corner of the world(well not that small the Kansai has about 10 million people or so.)
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