Home Base: Dublin, Ireland
Year Founded: 1759
When Guinness set out to replace its outmoded visitors’ center in Dublin, Ireland, the celebrated brewer knew that it wanted to build more than just a shrine to stout. Sure, capturing the company’s colorful 243-year history and serving the millions of thirsty pilgrims who travel to the holy mecca of Irish beer were important. But it was even more important to set the stage for the future: to use an ultramodern facility to breathe life into an aging brand, to reconnect an old company with young (and skeptical) customers, and to use the past to prepare employees for what comes next.
That was the design brief behind Guinness Storehouse, which opened in late 2000. Storehouse features exhibits that recount the company’s history and explain how the black stuff is made. But the facility also has conference rooms and a training center for employees, an art gallery, restaurants, cafés, bars, and event space. Housed in an imposing seven-story brick building that was erected in 1904, Storehouse serves as a giant mixing bowl for tourists, Guinness employees, and thirsty Dubliners. It represents best practice in the experience economy — and a reimagination of how a company can connect with its core constituencies.
“Guinness as a brand is all about community. It’s about bringing people together and sharing stories,” says Ralph Ardill, director of marketing and strategic planning at Imagination Ltd., the edgy London design firm that helped create the structure. “And Guinness stout is a great social catalyst.” In designing Storehouse, Imagination tried to re-create the magic of a pub full of strangers getting to know one another. “It isn’t a corporate cathedral for worshiping Guinness,” Ardill says. “It’s a place for interaction among tourists who are traveling around Ireland, for the people who live there, and for new Guinness employees who are undergoing training.”
Talk about a mixed-use space. Bartenders from all across Ireland come to Storehouse’s specially designed, publike classrooms to learn “how to pour the perfect pint,” says Mary Clarke, the facility’s head of sales and marketing. Groups within the St. James’s Gate Brewery complex, which Sir Arthur Guinness began building in 1759, use Storehouse for meetings and training. “We did a lot of sessions about how the changeover to the Euro would affect us,” Clarke says. Even genealogical researchers descend upon Storehouse’s archives, looking for information about ancestors who once lived in Dublin. (The Guinness archives are a good place to start, since so many Dubliners have worked for the company over the years.)
Storehouse is also the physical manifestation of a serious marketing challenge: to reconnect Guinness with younger drinkers in Ireland. While the brand has conquered the world (the stout is brewed in 50 countries and sells an estimated 10 million glasses a day), Guinness has gone a bit flat at home. In the second half of 2001, sales of Guinness in Ireland actually fell by 3%. Why the slip? Because Guinness, like so many other well-loved but old-fashioned products, had come to be perceived as the choice of the senior set. Ireland’s twentysomethings were switching to lighter drinks: lagers such as Heineken or high-intensity cocktails such as vodka with Red Bull.
Part of the solution, Guinness executives felt, was to make Storehouse a magnet for the Dublin pub-and-club-crawling crowd. After dark, there are special events that attract both locals and executives: awards ceremonies, concerts, corporate parties, fashion shows, and gallery openings. “We hung our first art show in December 2001,” Clarke says proudly, “and 600 people turned up for the opening.” The evening events make Storehouse a kind of community center. And by bringing people in their twenties and thirties to the brewery, the events help Guinness connect with the brand’s future. “Guinness Storehouse is a way to get in touch with a new generation,” says Ardill, “to help young people reevaluate Guinness.” And to rediscover Guinness’s history. Clive Brownlee, the company’s assistant managing director for Guinness Ireland, worked closely with the designers to ensure that the facility’s focus on the future also reveled in the past.
Guinness Storehouse is located in what had been an old abandoned fermentation plant within the main Guinness brewing complex in a gritty, industrial part of Dublin. The building’s design is like a candy with a chocolate shell and a creamy filling: It has tradition on the outside, tomorrow on the inside. A brick exterior gives way to a modern glass-and-steel interior that is illuminated by a dramatic combination of natural and artificial light. When sightseers arrive, they climb a short, narrow set of stairs before emerging into a cavernous atrium. It’s shaped roughly like a pint glass, with a circular pub, the Gravity Bar, at the top that glows white at night — like the suds atop a freshly poured Guinness. Set into the floor is the contract that Sir Arthur Guinness himself signed for the brewery site — a 9,000-year lease for the price of just 45 Irish punts a year.
After paying an entry fee of about $10, visitors receive “the pebble,” a palm-sized Lucite token with a globule of Guinness stout inside. The pebble grants entry to Storehouse, its displays, and — of course — its well-stocked gift shop. And once visitors have slowly risen to the top floor, like bubbles in a glass, the pebble acts as a drink ticket at the Gravity Bar, which boasts panoramic views of the city. A bartender scans the pebble, deactivating a metal strip inside it, serves you a pint (cold or extra cold), and returns the pebble as a souvenir. “The pebble is important,” says Ardill. “It’s not just a ticket. It starts conversations.”
Storehouse is already a top tourist destination in Ireland. It bumped off the Book of Kells at Trinity College in its inaugural year, during which it drew 570,000 tourists and hosted 45,000 people for special events and training. The old visitors’ center, the Hopstore, drew 470,000 tourists annually before it began to burst at the seams. (Located about a hundred yards from Storehouse, the Hopstore has since been sold to the MIT Media Lab, which runs its European research center there.)
But Guinness and Imagination aren’t declaring victory yet. Clarke says that some visitors have been asking for guided tours, which aren’t currently available. Brainstorming is under way regarding how to make one of the bars a bit “warmer and more exciting,” in Clarke’s words.
“The goal was for Storehouse to evolve, adapt, and grow up,” Ardill says. “Places like Storehouse bring consumers and employees together and open the doors to the community. They’re a way to make a company’s vision tangible. But that doesn’t mean everything should be set in stone.”
Scott Kirsner (email@example.com) is a Fast Company contributing editor based in Boston. He agreed not to submit his pub bills as research expenses for this story. Learn more about Guinness Storehouse on the Web (www.guinnessstorehouse.com).
The Power of Small Ideas
The initial schematic for Guinness Storehouse was sketched out — where else? — on a cocktail napkin. Adrian Caddy, napkin artist and creative director at Imagination Ltd., the high-profile London firm that worked with Guinness to design the facility, believes that the best ideas rarely bubble up in conference rooms or formal brainstorming sessions: “Asking a creative person to produce a good idea in a big meeting,” he says, “is like meeting someone who’s a comedian and saying, ‘Okay, say something funny now.’ “
At first, Guinness executives didn’t think that they needed to devote the entire Storehouse building to the new visitors’ center, and no one had the slightest intention of turning the structure into a subtle-but-stunning icon of the Dublin skyline: a massive pint glass topped with an illuminated circular bar. On a plane ride back to London from their first meeting with Guinness about the Storehouse project, Caddy and Ralph Ardill, Imagination’s director of marketing and strategic planning, started scribbling.
To launch Storehouse, Imagination designed a live show that ran for three consecutive evenings. The firm worked with Jean-Pascal Lévy-Trumet, creative director of the opening ceremony of the 1998 World Cup in France. The series of events attracted some 4,000 people, featured a cast of 20 performers, and made use of the entire building. Not bad for an idea that began on a napkin.
“Most good ideas are born out of a little sketch,” Caddy says. “A crudely drawn doodle has the power to communicate an idea to a really huge audience without much backup explanation. And the best ideas probably don’t occur when everybody is sitting around a table, but rather when you’re having something to eat or having a talk in a bar. I always just grab the first thing I see to sketch on — a book of matches, a little notepad, a bar mat — and try to take advantage of those spontaneous moments. You can capture a lot of passion and energy in a small space.”