When Howard Schultz first became chief executive of Starbucks (SBUX) , he had a bold plan for the stores to become a third place (after work and home) for its customers.
In his vision, the cafes would not be simply a place to get a cup of coffee; they would be closer to a British pub, a sort of community center where people connect over drinks and food.
That vision largely came true, with some bumps along the way. Starbucks locations are filled with people working from home, who have built their local stores into communities.
That success has come with some big problems. The chain also became America's bathroom, which led to challenges balancing the needs of customers versus being open to everyone.
But while the road hasn't always been smooth, the coffee giant has made itself part of everyday life for millions of Americans.
Starbucks has become a giant, with nearly 15,500 stores in the U.S. You may not love the coffee or the food, but Starbucks is everywhere, which makes it a valuable place to stop, relax, meet friends, or simply grab a drink and use the bathroom.
Now, the chain has advanced plans to be useful in a new and perhaps unexpected way.
Starbucks Solves an Electric-Vehicle Problem
People often stop at Starbucks to recharge -- and now the chain has been working to outfit its parking lots so electric vehicles can recharge.
In March, the coffee chain began a partnership with Volvo (VLVLY) to put electric-vehicle stations in some of its parking lots to enable people to recharge their vehicles along popular driving routes.
"Beginning this summer, Volvo electric vehicle chargers, powered by ChargePoint, will be available at up to 15 Starbucks stores along a 1,350-mile route from the Colorado Rockies to the Starbucks Support Center (headquarters) in Seattle," the company said in a news release.
Now, the coffee giant has begun installing the Chargepoint (CHPT) EV charging stations at its stores. The stations are spaced out at stores roughly 100 miles apart, enabling EV owners to stay charged on their trips without wondering where to plug in next.
"As part of our commitment to a sustainable future, Starbucks is working with Volvo Cars to install EV charging stations at Starbucks stores. Up to 60 DC fast chargers will be built on the picturesque 1,350-mile route from Seattle to Denver, along I-90, I-84 and I-70," the company said.
The first stations have been installed at a Starbucks in Provo, Utah, and more will go operative in coming weeks.
Tesla (TSLA) has, of course, invested heavily in its own charging network. That network has holes, however, and Tesla chargers don't help people who drive electric vehicles from Volvo, Rivian (RIVN) , Lucid (LCID) , or any other EV.
Why Is the Starbucks-Volvo-ChargePoint Deal Important?
The U.S. has more than 150,000 gas stations. If you drive a traditional internal-combustion-engine car, you rarely if ever have to worry about finding a place to fill up when your tank runs low.
That's not true for EV owners, who have to plan their routes around charging-station locations. And in many cases those locations are at gas stations or rest stops.
It can take 20 minutes or longer to fully charge a depleted electric vehicle, which makes Starbucks a perfect fit for chargers. People can pull in, plug in their vehicles, get a cup of coffee and a snack, hit the bathroom, and be on their way for another 200-plus miles of driving.
Starbucks has the parking lots, and the EV industry -- led by Volvo and ChargePoint in this case -- has the need. This is a perfect match that could meaningfully accelerate the viability of electric vehicles in the U.S.
This is, of course, a first step, but all journeys have to have a starting point, and this one could lead to a much larger partnership.