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  • 08.05.09

The Physical API: Franchising in the Future?

Opinion is split on whether the “stealth Starbucks” (aka 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea) is a good thing or not.

inspiredbystarbucks

In effect, Starbucks has stripped its new store of external Starbucks brand cues, and injected a degree of uniqueness to create a different, seemingly homegrown feel. But inside the beast still beats the Starbucks heart–the same business thinking and economies of scale power this store as any other Starbucks. Snarkmarket, posting on the topic, noted that in effect Starbucks was taking the idea of a local coffee shop and inserting its own API. In other words, it’s an echo of the coding hooks and commands that enable programers to write an iPhone app for Facebook, or a desktop app for Twitter: Each app is its own thing, but uses keys to the bigger service to make it work.

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Robin at Snarkmarket then made the perfectly logical leap from here, and asked: “What if Starbucks was offering up a Starbucks API–a set of hooks into a vast, efficient coffee shop support system with incredible economies of scale? You, the local coffee shop owner, simply plug in, and wham, your costs drop.” Doing so wouldn’t necessarily imply a 100% buy-in, since you could choose which API elements to use. Unlike a stealth Starbucks store, intended to deceive, this would result in what one NoahBrier.com commenter noted would be more like a “Local Hippies Coffee & Cookies shop – powered by Starbucks.”

In a world where globalization has become a four letter word, this variation on a franchise seems like a sensible idea. The physical API almost implies temporarily swapping-out the way your business looks and feels for a “plug-in” way of working that someone else has already optimized.

Which begs the next thought: What if other successful brands sell their pre-optimized physical APIs? Here are my quick and dirty, and not necessarily terribly serious, suggestions as to how the modus operandi for each could be described.

Apple’s Physical API: K.I.S.S.S.

That’s Keep It Stylish and Simple, Stupid. Sell chic products in stores that look like minimalist homes from interior decor magazines. Think white walls, uncluttered display desks with a lot of hands on. Dress staff in our classic black, never-goes-out-of-fashion style. Have a great Web presence that matches the design ethos of your stores. Sell stuff over the Web. Be cool.

Microsoft’s Physical API: Diversify and Charge High

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Sell your core products in a large number of slight variations, with the suggestion that if customers spend more to get the top-end stuff, they’re really getting the best deal. Push the line “you’ve bought our stuff so often before, switching to someone else will probably be really difficult!” Hire door staff to intimidate other nearby competing stores. Avoid interior decor where blue walls carry lots of white writing.

Twitter’s Physical API: Let’s get talking, and then think about cash

Capitalize on the fact people like to gossip and talk about themselves, often without listening too much to what others say. Modernize the conversation between your clients–make them use brief, sound-bitey sentences. Promote yourself as a way to sample the social pulse of the world, and note that you cover everything from serious issues to celebrity waffle. Just get your customers talking–you can worry about generating revenue some time next year.

Obviously this is an idea that needs to be fleshed out a little–how would you actually sell those services for example? How well would business practices translate from a coffee business to, say, a clothes store? Could you buy an Apple-esque Web store presence directly from the chaps at Cupertino? Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing idea. Over to you in the comments.

[Snarkmarket via NoahBrier]

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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