From Starbucks to Huawei: why international brands are opening new stores in Italy

italy huawei starbucks

Did you know that Starbucks was born in Milan? While the first establishment was opened, as we all know, in Seattle in the early ‘80s, CEO and founder Howard Schultz claims the idea came to him during a business trip to Italy. The atmosphere of the typical Italian bar (which in Italy means cafe), the way in which morning coffee is almost a revered ritual in Italy, the personal touch and the very special interaction that is established between the baristas (the Italian word was in fact adopted to describe this entire profession) and their customers, all of this inspired Schultz to shape Starbucks as we know and love it. And even though it took almost 40 years for the company to successfully launch its first Italian cafe, this is a perfect example of Italy’s love story with visionary entrepreneurs. Inspiring business pioneers, suggesting new ways to look at life and encouraging creativity is what this Country does best.

The secret to succeeding in Italy the Starbucks way

It is safe to say now that, despite the misgivings of a handful of coffee snobs, the first Starbucks in Milan has proven to be a resounding success. Why has it succeeded, where other major brands have failed? Because Schultz’ business philosophy and ethics are oriented towards a respectful and collaborative approach. Rather than occupying a space and imposing the brand’s style on it, Starbucks found its place within the Milanese landscape by respecting the history and personality of the location they chose, and they teamed up with a renowned Italian brand for their in-house bakery. Even the company’s guidelines on ethical entrepreneurship, according to Schultz, are inspired by Italian history, specifically from the long line of enlightened entrepreneurs of the ‘50s and ‘60s, that used their success and wealth to better the lives of their local communities.

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A hotbed of new ideas: Huawei in Italy

The Italian market is a complex and interesting one and Milan is the natural port for all the international brands wishing to approach it. And this trend does not only involve brands that, like Starbucks, somehow reflect the traditional values associated with the Italian lifestyle. Italy’s charm works just as well on high-tech brands wishing to conquer the European market. Enter Huawei, which opened its first European flagship store in Milan, in November 2017. Not only this was Huawei’s first outpost on the continent, but it also embodied a whole new, experimental idea of retail: an experiential store.

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Italy’s inspirational factor

What is it about Italy in general and Milan in particular, that inspires brands and international entrepreneurs to experiment with new ideas and to contaminate their brand values with those typical of Italian culture? Despite a less than steady economic outlook and its often maddening bureaucracy, Italy still has that quality, dear to entrepreneurs all over the world, of rewarding those who dare think outside the box. Then there’s the very physical and unavoidable aspect of Milan’s ideal location at the very heart of Europe. If you want your new flagship store to be seen, noticed and commented on by an international crowd coming from every corner of Europe – and most of the world – Milan is definitely the place to be. A pulsing hub of innovation and business culture, the city is only a short trip away from all European capitals, and it boasts a rich schedule of international events and trade-shows that draw millions of professional visitors every year. Culture, business, finance, technology and art all converge to the regional capital of Lombardy, making it the ideal springboard for any brand wishing to dive right into the heart of the European market, to road-test new ideas and products, to launch new lines or experiment with innovative concepts of retail and distribution.

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She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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