Starbucks Leadership Experience in One Word: Huge!

Starbucks gathered 12,000 partners—store managers and field leaders from the United States and Canada—for the Starbucks Leadership Experience in September 2019 at Chicago’s McCormick Place and United Center.

Chicago Scenic was honored to be tapped by Starbucks’ agency, Seattle-based Touch Worldwide, to help bring this massive three-day event to life.

The Experience space needed to accommodate large crowds and a variety of formats—including keynotes, interactive leadership sessions, presentations, and hands-on demos. There were practical considerations like creating ample space at McCormick Place to provide meal service for thousands of participants. And the Experience space required a performance space—across town at Chicago’s United Center—to host large opening and closing events.

One Chicago Scenic team created the custom stage at United Center that featured inlaid wood veneer and stage stairs with hand-painted faux copper trim. The crew also provided a custom piano wagon and docking platform for John Legend, the closing session’s featured entertainer.

The challenge of transforming two massive halls at McCormick Place—totaling nearly 800,000 sq. ft.—fell to Chicago Scenic Project Manager Holli Eddington and a team of scenic fabricators and artisans, shop leads, a second assisting project manager, and technical drawing professionals. One of the massive halls, the “Mess Hall”, was dedicated to feeding the Starbucks attendees. The majority of work that Chicago Scenic performed—80% of all scenic work delivered—was installed in the second space called Experience Hall.

Telling the Starbucks Story
Experience Hall was organized to direct attendees to several interactive exhibit areas that provided information on the company’s messages, key initiatives, history and future. Guests entered the hall through the “Mission and Values” area, a welcoming space that featured Chicago Scenic-created benches, custom graphic frames and masking walls, and “The Big Picture”—a custom Coffee Bag Sculpture.

Recreating the Innovation Lab
In the middle of the hall attendees entered The Tryer Center, an authentic recreation of Starbucks’ innovation lab in Seattle. New products and techniques designed to improve ergonomics and increase efficiency are tested in this facility. Chicago Scenic created the space’s defining overhead grid and columns, graphics and signage, and the “Innovation Pergola”. The pergola was a prototype of an idea that a Starbucks partner had to help incorporate solar energy into the cafes.

Replica of Costa Rican Coffee Farm
Beyond the Tryer Center, attendees toured Hacienda Alsacia, a replica of the Starbucks’ Costa Rican coffee farm. Chicago Scenic built the structure with its 100-ft. by 73-ft. roof. Independently rigged on an angle, the structure was an impressive visual addition to the hall. The Hacienda featured two large and two small wings with a number of gathering spots, including a custom island. Attendees also gathered at the space’s coffee sampling bar produced by Showman Fabricators; the bar’s detailed finishes included CNC-cut edging and a hand painted, wood plank finish.

Pike Place Stores Recreated
Experience Hall’s Market Place Entryway led visitors along a path created by decorative flats that featured graphic images of Seattle’s legendary Pike Place Market. Streetlights and a recreation of the Market Place sign and clock enhanced the graphic panels provided by Chicago Scenic.

While the Entryway created the realistic Seattle environment, it also served a practical purpose: to funnel attendees into one of the side-by-side replicas of Starbucks’ first coffee shop, opened in 1971. (Side-by-side stores were necessary to manage the flow of thousands of employees during the day-long event).

The Pike Place Stores were built to scale and authentically reproduced the original store still open in Seattle. The stores featured distressed floor and counter finishes, identical wall graphics, and “Cappuccino” and “Espresso” neon signs. Store interiors were stocked with all the extras found in a Starbucks—straws, stir sticks, napkins and a working espresso machine that provides the steam wand’s familiar“shhhh” sound.

Creative Scheduling Accommodates Demanding Deadlines
Chicago Scenic’s team met the project’s rigorous schedule by beginning fabrication while Touch Worldwide’s designs were still in process. Touch’s team members instituted a system of “rolling release” approvals, sharing renderings with Chicago Scenic as soon as they were approved by Starbucks in an effort to keep the project on schedule.

Team: Touch Worldwide (experience design), Chicago Scenic
(project management, fabrication, installation), Holli Eddington,
Gary Heitz (Project Managers), Department Leads: John Baker, Andrew Lemerand, Jon Harvey, (Carpentry); Logan Schumann (Metals); Les Woods (Paints); Curt Kucik (Electrics).

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