Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee house, continues to brew success on land and at sea. Now it’s taken its tall frappucinos to the railroad tracks.

In collaboration with Swiss Federal Railways, Starbucks unveiled its first store on a train last weekend in a bid to deliver coffee to wherever people “live, work and play” and now, commute.

Starbucks has opened an average of two new stores each day since 1987. In 2010, the company also embarked on the first retail store on the sea, on the Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas ship.

Neutral Train Interiors

Neutral train interiors

Starbucks’ success to date can be attributed to the provision of luxury product and its strategic store design, both of which facilitate a comfortable coffee culture.

The company has more than 18 in-house design studios around the world to create distinct customer experiences across various stores. Designs aim to reflect of the store’s surrounding locations.

While companies including Apple and Nike have also been credited with providing “unique customer experiences,” store visits to those brands are generally fuelled by product whereas Starbucks heavily relies on store ambience.

Starbucks’ recent railway concept took two years to bring to life, with local culture being at the forefront of directing the design.

Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz

“We’re tailoring design to meet the needs of customers and creating more local relevancy by taking inspiration from the local communities, the street, the city, the local coffee culture and in this case, the rail station,” explained Kris Engskov, president of Starbucks Europe Middle East and Africa.

The new Starbucks train spans two levels with the capacity to seat 50 people. The exterior features Starbucks branding with white icons on windows to promote the fair trade coffee, food and beverage offerings on board.

The interior features a colour palette of coffee tones including white, beige, chocolate and caramel, branded leather seats embossed with the Starbucks logo and raw-edged wooden furniture from tables to the main bar.

The Swiss-inspired design can be seen in “special dials resembling watch faces” on each table, which serve as table numbers, allowing guests to order from their seats and have drinks delivered.

LEED Certified Starbucks, Potsdamer Platz Square, Germany

LEED Certified Starbucks, Potsdamer Platz Square, Germany

“We had to combine functionality and beautiful design, whilst taking into account a variety of factors such as constant movement of the train, space limitation and stringent safety regulations,” explained Liz Muller, director of concept design for Starbucks who commissioned local design and engineer experts to complete the project.

While Starbucks has officially been operating since 1971, it wasn’t until the mid 80s that the company began to challenge the coffee culture in America.

Starbucks president and chief executive Howard Schultz joined the company in 1981 and, during a buying trip to Italy two years later, came up with the ideas that would take Starbucks global.

Starbucks Round Table Strategy

Starbucks’ round table strategy

Schultz was captivated with the community and romance associated with Italian espresso bars and sought to bring the tradition home to the Unites States. It wasn’t until 1987, following Schultz’s own coffee venture Il Giornale that he relaunched Starbucks. From that point on, Starbucks represented the Italian lifestyle that enthralled Schultz.

The company undertook massive amounts of research before designing its first concept stores. This included interviewing hundreds of coffee drinkers to determine what they wanted from a coffee shop. Beyond the coffee, the majority of respondents were looking for a place they felt like they belonged to and could relax and enjoy the product.

Today, this remains a core part of Starbucks’ design objective. Earthy, natural materials are used (e.g. wooden furniture) and bars and tables curve or are large enough to encourage communal conversation and a place to meet.

Raw Materials Starbucks Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan

Raw Materials Starbucks, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan

Upon designing the first stores, there was even a focus on offering small round tables compared to square ones, as they enabled consumers to fly solo without feeling as though there was a seat missing at the table. The furniture is also designed to exude comfort and a welcoming air.

Another clever design element was to place the large coffee machine at the centre of the store’s operations; the main bar. This was done so consumers could see and interact with the barista making their coffee.

While the exteriors of Starbucks stores are designed to correspond to their city or neighbourhood, the interiors always feature a combination of a neutral colour palette (coffee tones) and loud Italian colours: red, white and green.

The company places an emphasis on sustainability with reused, reclaimed and locally sourced materials used wherever possible. Starbucks has LEED certified stores in 17 countries worldwide and aims to have all company owned stores LEED certified by 2015.

Starbucks Rise To Success


In terms of future green commitments, Starbucks is exploring the use of retail shipping containers for retail spaces.