The Next Starbucks. That's part of the bold title of a feature story in the January 2001 issue of Inc. magazine. The article profiles Moonstruck Chocolatier, based in Portland, Ore., a small retailer of chocolates and chocolate drinks whose founders hope to grow the company substantially -- using Starbucks as a role model. "The more we poked at the Starbucks model, the better it looked," says Bill Simmons, who cofounded Moonstruck with his wife Deb (and with help from John Schouten, a marketing professor at the University of Portland). Bill Simmons wondered what other commodity could, like coffee, command a cult following. The Simmonses' answer? Chocolate.
Like many start-ups, Moonstruck faces long odds as it seeks to grow its company and its brand. But -- setting aside the question of Moonstruck's chances -- what is it about Starbucks that people find so worthy of imitation? "They've taken an everyday product, jazzed it up, and made it something special," says Arthur Thompson, a professor of business strategy at the University of Alabama who has written a case study about Starbucks.
Is it smart for a start-up to imitate another company? Thompson says that copying a successful company's business model and applying it to a new market can be an effective start-up strategy. When one company invokes the name of another successful one, "you can fairly quickly grasp what the vision is," echoes well-known management thinker Jim Collins. Making an analogy can result in a vivid goal -- and energize the mission. "'Doing for chocolate what Starbucks did for coffee.' Bang, that's it -- that's all you need to know," says Collins. "That's a much richer encapsulation of what they're about than saying, 'Well, we're going to grow to $1 billion in sales."
Collins is coauthor, with Jerry Porras, of the popular business book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, which examines the traits of very successful, long-lasting companies. Collins posits that such companies often adopt what he calls "big, hairy, audacious goals" (BHAGs) -- ambitious missions that energize the companies. He believes that there are four basic types of BHAGs, and the "role model" BHAG -- a company striving to become the Starbucks or McDonald's of its industry -- is one of the four. "One company will pick an appropriate model as a standard to work toward, just as one person might pick another to emulate in life," he explains.
Will Moonstruck succeed in its bold goal? Read the full story -- from the January 2001 issue of Inc. magazine -- to find out more about the young start-up and its strategy. --Reported by Edward O. Welles