Back in 1998, the site for the first Starbucks store in Beijing, China had been selected. Robert Wu (Market Development Consultant), King Choi (Store Designer), Jane Melvin (International Marketing) and I (International Operations) were sent to Beijing to review the final site plans and store design with our market partner and to begin conversations about the market launch.
Given that there was no Starbucks Coffee in China yet, we carried our own coffee, French Press and Starbucks logo paper cups with us on the journey. We ended up with one free day to be tourists and we all quickly agreed to visit the Great Wall. We took our coffee, French Press and cups with us, along with a thermos of hot water. Who could pass up the opportunity to have a fresh cup of Starbucks Coffee on the Great Wall - and do a little grass roots marketing at the same time?
The Great Wall was even more magnificent than I had imagined, stretching as far as the eye could see in both directions, snaking over the mountains like a great stone serpent. It was a sunny day and the Wall was teaming with tourists and locals. After climbing for an hour or so, we stopped to take out our “tools of the trade” and make a French Press of Starbucks Coffee to enjoy together. We made sure the logo on our cups was always facing outward, to complement the logo on Robert’s shirt and Jane’s hat. Many people looked at us as though we were crazy, but we didn’t care. We were so proud and excited to be there and to know that we would be bringing Starbucks Coffee to China very soon.
As we packed up our wares, Robert noticed a local man taking a picture of his elderly mother standing on the Wall. Robert asked the gentleman, in Chinese, if he would like a picture taken of him with his mother. He enthusiastically accepted. As the two of them stood together, having their picture taken on the Great Wall, the elderly woman started to cry. Robert asked if everything was OK. The man told him that his mother had grown up in China but had never been to the Great Wall. It was her dream to see it with her son. To have her picture taken there, with him, was a very special experience for her. It made the day even more special for us as well.
After returning to the hotel, I called my husband to tell him about our day. He mentioned that he spoke to his brother earlier that day and told him where I was. My sister-in-law, a schoolteacher in Kansas, happened to be covering China with her 6th grade class that week. King was transmitting photos of the site to the design team back in Seattle that night, so I asked if he could send a photo of us on the Great Wall to my sister-in-law as well, which he did. Within hours of standing on the Great Wall of China, our picture was being shared with a classroom full of 6th graders in Kansas. This was in 1998!! That was pretty high-tech for the day.
I have many fond memories of my visits to China, but that was top of my list.