The exterior of Starbucks Taikoo Li Sanlitun, a 24-hour store geared toward the young adults who the one-child policy left relatively companionless.

A Starbucks Coffee workshop at the Kerry Centre location.

The Taikoo Li Sanlitun location went for a “lounge feel,” with lower, softer seating where strangers could sit across from each other and potentially make friends.

The coffee tribute store in the Kerry Centre is meant to introduce home brewing methods to a well-traveled, affluent demographic.

How China's One-Child Policy Forced Starbucks To Rethink Its Beijing Stores

Brands expanding in China can't ignore the impact of the one-child policy. Liz Muller of Starbucks talks about a new Beijing store that is as much about connection as it is caffeine.

The effects of China’s one-child policy are manifold. Studies show people raised under the program are less trusting, men are unable to find mates, and then there's the "4-2-1" phenomenon, where working young people must assume financial responsibility for themselves, their parents, and four grandparents. The policy has likely had the strongest impact on a nation’s demographics of any social initiative, save genocide, in history.

More than 30 years later, the one-child policy also raises an important question for brands looking to make inroads into the country: Is there something the young adult Chinese demographic is missing on account of growing up alone? And if there is such a thing, how can we provide it?

Liz Muller, the director of concept design for Starbucks, makes it her job to answer these sorts of questions. She’s the mind behind some of Starbucks’s most creative flagship stores. As the brand expands internationally, each of her far-flung creations aims to introduce customers in Europe and Asia to the Starbucks take on the subjects of coffee and service in a way that makes sense in their culture.

She has, for instance, replaced the brand’s homogenous retail stores with a friendly coffee-and-cookie bar in a former bank building in pastry-loving Amsterdam, and plans to help open Starbucks lounges aboard two intercity trains in rail-travel loving Switzerland, a first for the brand.

Her most recent completed projects are two flagships in Beijing: a coffee tribute store in the Kerry Centre meant to introduce home brewing methods to a well-traveled, affluent demographic, and a 24-hour store in Taikoo Li Sanlitun geared toward the young adults who the one-child policy left relatively companionless. Though the two stores are just a few miles apart, the differences are significant, and the Taikoo Li site is the one that caters specifically to those impacted by China’s infamous rule of one.

“A lot of these children have grown up in one-child families, they use our store as a connection of truly interacting with, I would say, their brothers and sisters that they don’t have,” says Muller. “Unless you want to sit in a restaurant or a bar, there is nothing in that area [around Taikoo Li] that truly gives you a safe environment where you can have a meeting or chat, or get together with friends.”

The solution, says Muller, was to create a store that would cater to a late-night crowd and have a “lounge feel,” with lower softer seating where strangers could sit across from each other and potentially make friends. There would be live music on the second floor on weekends, which the company would call Club 1971, in honor of Starbucks’ inaugural year. “It has lower lighting, and a beautiful mood, a stage for you to truly engage,” she says. “What we found is that most everybody is normally on their iPad or their iPhone, but what happens there is they put them down and they truly connect. They take pictures with each other. I think it is interesting because if you think of how they are raised, they might not have extended family that we all have, so they truly take the time to connect with people.”

The challenge, for Muller, was in maintaining the bar’s open feel all day long. Taikoo Li, which is surrounded by gardens and event space, is a beautiful site, she says, but as a glass box with few walls, the store itself was a difficult place to establish an environment where people felt comfortable looking out during the day, but also would be enticed to come in once night fell and all eyes were on the lighted lounge. Warm tones were key here, and Muller reports that the evening hours when the store gleams like a beacon in the dark are the most popular for business. “At this time, the response has been overwhelming,” she says. "People are just in awe."

Taikoo Li has been so successful that she was called back in to add more seats, presumably for all the single people looking to connect.

[Images courtesy of Starbucks]

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11 Comments

  • John

    She has, for instance, replaced the brand’s homogenous retail stores with a friendly coffee-and-cookie bar in a former bank building in pastry-loving Amsterdam, and plans to help open Starbucks lounges aboard two intercity trains in rail-travel loving Switzerland, a first for the brand.

  • LogicalArguments

    I understand it's a tough policy, but from a overall society point of view, it could be argued that it's a necessity. With over a billion population, you need to have some sort of humane population control. From a citizen of the earth, I support such policies if it help control the ever increasing population of the world, specially in regions where population is clearly too high for the area and resources..

  • Seamus

    The one child policy is not a reality any longer in the big cities in China; Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing especially. Any couple who can afford to pay "an additional tax", meaning a bribe to the government for them to overlook their transgression(s) ensures financially capable couples can have several children. I've met them, worked with them, and as most of China assimilates our western values, much to my dismay, they are delighted to pay their government extra money so they can have multiple "little emporers". Don't trust what you read in our media about China, very little of it is actually authentic, including this age old fallacy about a one child policy.

  • Logical Arguments

    While clearly an unfair advantage to the rich (and everything in this world is an unfair advantage to the rich), one good side effect of this policy is that the poorer families will have fewer children than the rich, with the inheritance money (another arguably unfair advantage to those born in rich families) split up between more children. This could theoretically narrow the rich-poor gap.

  • John

    To my knowledge, majority is still under one child policy. How many percent do u think of 'the have' that 'paid' for having more than one child? Is HK included in one-child policy? I don't think so......

  • nite_wolfus

    To my knowledge, majority is still under one child policy. How many percent do u think of 'the have' that 'paid' for having more than one child? Is HK included in one-child policy? I don't think so......

  • John

    While clearly an unfair advantage to the rich (and everything in this world is an unfair advantage to the rich), one good side effect of this policy is that the poorer families will have fewer children than the rich, with the inheritance money (another arguably unfair advantage to those born in rich families) split up between more children. This could theoretically narrow the rich-poor gap.

  • zhang

    you are right. Only rich people can raise more than one child in China. But now government allows couples have two kids if they(parents) are the only child in their own families. So it should be called Two-Child-Policy now. However, most young parents still choose to have only one baby instead of two because it is really expensive. Most Chinese are poor, especially those young generations who still need some help from their parents.

  • John

    The one child policy is not a reality any longer in the big cities in China; Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing especially. Any couple who can afford to pay "an additional tax", meaning a bribe to the government for them to overlook their transgression(s) ensures financially capable couples can have several children. I've met them, worked with them, and as most of China assimilates our western values, much to my dismay, they are delighted to pay their government extra money so they can have multiple "little emporers". Don't trust what you read in our media about China, very little of it is actually authentic, including this age old fallacy about a one child policy.

  • Jonathan Jonas Dressler

    Very cool. Can Liz Muller come design some shops in Bushwick please?