The Power of the Pivot: 3 Keys to Unlock Unused Potential in Your Business

I’ll Take a Cup of Pivot to Go, Please

Grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend has become a staple in our modern-day society. Need to study with a pal? Meet up with a new business prospect? Have a moment of team building with your marketing group?

Just visit one of the 32,000+ Starbucks locations worldwide. They will take your order, call you by your name, and have your custom-crafted beverage to you in a matter of minutes. A cup of cream-laden Pike’s Place with a hint of sugar is the perfect complement to any mid-morning meeting. Every Starbucks on every street corner will give you the same delicious experience.

Or so I thought.

I met up with my good friend, Jenn, on a fall evening two years ago. We had a standing Starbucks date once a month. She is a pre-school director. I was writing and teaching middle school English at the time. We needed a moment to connect, to laugh, and let our school-teacher-hair down, so to speak. And, let’s be honest, we needed to fuel our caffeine addiction. We decided to try a new Starbucks that had opened up in downtown Redwood City, California.

As we flung open the door, we quickly realized this was no ordinary cup of joe. We entered in hushed and reverent tones. The lights were dimmed. Gone were the white coffee cups with the lovely green mermaid. The cups were black and sleek, just like the furniture, labeled with a new type of lovely fraction: a gold star presiding over a capital R.

Welcome to Starbucks Reserve.  Was that an Eames chair in the corner? What was happening?


We were greeted by a barista, or was it a chemist? A long, polished bar, reminiscent of an Italian café, stretched out across the store front, festooned with different brewing options: The Siphon, The Pour-Over, The Coffee Press, The Stove Top, and The Cold Brew.

We were stunned into silence. Starbucks Reserve is the company’s new high-end coffee café.

We suddenly felt so rich and fancy. It took us nearly ten minutes to decide on a cup of coffee.


We opted out of The Siphon. At $12 a pop, we quickly realized we weren’t that rich or fancy. We settled on one of the most delicious cups of pour-over coffee I have encountered. Perfectly balanced. Just the right amount of steam drifting up towards my nostrils. We lingered, chatting at a table, until the cafe closed.

It was a completely new Starbucks sensation. Gone was the easy comfort of thinking you knew everything you thought there was to be known about Starbucks. Jenn and I didn’t have a cup of coffee. We had an experience.

Starbucks had embraced the power of the pivot.

Pivot verb piv·ot | \ ˈpi-vət \ to turn on or around a central point

What is a pivot?

The expression of “pivoting” is not a new business term. In the early 1980’s, Starbucks shifted from being a coffee company that sold roasted beans and espresso machines around Seattle, to a modern-day coffee house on a global scale. Pivoting their business model changed the trajectory of a five-store company into an 80-billion-dollar caffeine-fueled empire.

But pivoting isn’t just for the big guns. It is the new catchphrase in our pandemic culture. In 2020, the global lockdown took pivoting to a whole new level. Cultural norms of going out to eat, shopping in storefronts, working at the office, and attending school, from preschool to graduate school, encountered a seismic shift.

How do you survive in business when no one can come to your business? How do you teach when schools are shut down? How do you serve your customers coffee when everyone is drinking coffee on their couch?

Bring coffee to the couch. Starbucks pivoted by partnering with Uber Eats to offer delivery. They weren’t the only company to pivot.

The Harvard Business Review states that the story being told by businesses around the world is “one of pivoting to business models conducive to short-term survival along with long-term resilience and growth. Pivoting is a lateral move that creates enough value for the customer and the firm to share.”

In this ever-changing business landscape, how can you pivot to not just survive but thrive?

What is the lateral move that you need to make to create value for you and your customer to share?

3 Keys to Unlock Unused Potential in Your Business

Key #1: Identify the Problem

Steve Jobs once said, “If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.”

What is keeping your business from moving forward? Is there something that is holding you back (other than a global pandemic) from reaching your customer base?

Identify the problem and the solution is just around the corner. Starbucks first opened its doors in 1971 as a high-quality coffee bean roastery in Seattle’s Pikes Place Market. It launched five stores in a decade. Not bad. But when the Starbucks team brought on Howard Shultz in 1982 as Director of Sales and Marketing, he identified a problem. Why wasn’t Starbucks actually serving piping-hot cups of coffee? In 1984, Starbucks pivoted from a storefront to a café, serving its first latte, revolutionizing both the company and its path to success. In 1988, Shultz and a group of investors bought Starbucks and the rest is history.

Identify that proverbial cup of coffee that your business needs to serve its customers to get you on the path to success.  Unleash your hidden potential and change your company’s history.

Key #2: Double Down on Your Mission

What is it that makes your company unique and sets you apart from the other movers and shakers in your line of work? Figure out what makes you special and double-down on that mission.

When Howard Shultz helped Starbucks pivot from storefront to café, the company’s mission and heart didn’t change. Starbucks still wanted to deliver high-quality coffee to their customers. The pivot was changing from being a high-quality bean roastery to serving up hot cups of delicious high-quality coffee in to-go cups. The mission was the same, but how they achieved that mission shifted.

Whether the heart of your company is delivering excellent customer service or creating bold new marketing strategies, make sure that same heart is still beating when you pivot.

Key #3: Test Your Results

Starbucks’ path to success hasn’t been without struggle and pitfalls. Every pivot is an experiment. After years of explosive growth and expansion, Starbucks was rocked by the financial crash of 2007. Customers were holding onto their money, deciding that their morning coffee run was an unnecessary expense. Plummeting stock prices and slowing growth required another pivot. Massive expansion was no longer working.

Howard Shultz began closing hundreds of cafes, refocusing the company on the mission that had birthed in the first place – a true, high-quality coffee experience. He went as far as closing all the cafes one afternoon in order to retrain the baristas in how to make a truly authentic espresso. Shultz said, “The equity of the brand is based on the experience they create, and we want to unleash that creativity and that passion. They have it. We just have to give them the tools and the resources for it to come out.” The experiment paid off. Starbucks began to recover. By 2009, the company began a steady growth spurt that continues on until this day.

Starbucks has continued on in that vein of creativity, pivoting and testing, looking for results that continue to delight their customers and move their company forward. The sight of the pumpkin latte arriving each fall is enough to bring a joyful tear to the eyes of the Starbucks faithful. The beautiful destination cup of coffee served at Starbucks Reserve takes the pivot one step further. It is seen by Starbucks as “our pursuit of the highest state of coffee experience.” From my experience, they pursued it just right.

Are you getting the results that you are looking for with your present business practices? Are you willing to experiment and test your results? Doing so can unlock the door to creativity and success in the marketplace.

“Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” Ross, Friends (1999)

Pivoting is the new normal. Identify your present problem. Double down on your heart-felt mission. And test the heck out of your results for a bright and resilient future. CCB has the unique ability to help you in your pivoting journey. With a nimble team and multi-faceted marketing strategies, we can help you connect with your customer base and navigate your new normal. 

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