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Business Insider has a story about an interview that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz did on "Here's The Thing," the National Public Radio (NPR) podcast hosted by Alec Baldwin, in which he talked about the continuing challenges of growth, even at a well-established chain such as Starbucks.

"Not a lot of food companies have scaled very well," he says. "Ubiquity is a challenge. It's hard to get big and stay small."

"The idea of getting big and staying small is a major one at Starbucks right now," Business Insider writes. "As the chain becomes ubiquitous, it is trying hard to maintain its upscale reputation — and avoid being seen as a 'basic,' over-hyped brand. To maintain this reputation, Starbucks is investing millions of dollars into building Roasteries, introducing new menu items, and even creating original content."

Schultz says that rather than looking to food industry companies for inspiration, he "looks to brands such as Nike, Apple, and Disney to learn how to maintain integrity while becoming global phenomenons."

There are two chains that he mentions to Baldwin in the podcast as being strong players - Shake Shack and In-N-Out Burger, which are both known for maintaining and improving quality as well as taking care of their people.
KC's View:
The notion of getting big and staying small is something that MNB fave Glen Terbeek wrote about years ago in his book "The Agentry Agenda," in which he argued that big chains would be better off - and better able to serve customers - if they organized themselves into smaller pods. For example, he suggested that a 100-store chain should break itself into 10 10-store units with a great deal of autonomy and a nimbleness that would be a long-term advantage.

That's a little different from what Schultz is suggesting, but the general theory is the same.

By the way, the Baldwin podcast is excellent - there's a new one every two weeks or so, and the conversations revealing. (The one with Billy Joel is a favorite of mine.) "Here's The Thing" is one of my favorite podcasts, along with "Off Message" from Politico and the new Tony Kornheiser podcast.)