By Karen Axelton

87817234For years Starbucks was the company to watch and learn from. In recent years, it’s taken somewhat of a beating; sales dropped when the recession hit as customers cut back.

But now Starbucks may be bouncing back—and may be once again one to watch. This article from the New York Times examines how Starbucks is rebounding by “thinking entrepreneurially” once again.

When founder Howard Schultz returned as CEO two years ago, he told employees to “break the rules and do things for yourself.” Schultz’s goal is to take the giant chain back to its startup roots. “We went back to start-up mode…with the kind of discussion and focus that probably we had not had as a company since the early days — the fear of failure, the hunger to win,” the article quotes him as saying.

One result of the new attitude: The company is opening boutique coffeehouses that aren’t named Starbucks, such as Seattle’s 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. It is also focusing on localizing its Starbucks locations—for example, more iced drinks in the Sun Belt and more espresso in the Pacific Northwest. In short, it’s making its stores more like independent coffeehouses.

Will the strategy work? Some customers feel “fooled” when it turns out that independent-(seeming) coffee house they liked is really a Starbucks. But  last week Starbucks reported first-quarter sales more than triple those of a year ago.

Being responsive, individualistic and unique are advantages small businesses have traditionally held. Starbucks is smart to be copying them. Asking your employees to think creatively, think proactively and never rest on their laurels is a move that can’t help but pay off.