When I travel I often use a Starbucks as my "office." However, when I need to print something I am often at a loss and forced to go to places I don't want to go (cough "Kinko's" cough). I often wonder why Starbucks doesn't offer printing services to customers. Sure, it would cost extra investment to provide paper and printer, but wouldn't it attract more customers to the stores and therefore sell more coffee? There is clearly a need for this; right? Sometimes the best approach is simply to try it out myself. Today I went into a Starbucks store and offered to set up a printer stand with my own printer for free. This was a classic store-within-a-store setting, except everything was free. I wanted to see two things: 1. Would Starbucks reject my offer? 2. Would customers reject my service?
To my surprise Starbucks took up on my offer and let me set up my services, but the "free printing" service wasn't that appealing to the customers. Of course this all happened in a short span of time. I acknowledge that a real, valid business experiment would require much longer time and would need to be conducted in many more stores.
Entrepreneurial success is much more than coming up with a clever idea and trying to make it work. In his wonderful book on entrepreneurship The Lean Startup, Eric Ries emphasized the importance of finding customer needs through experimentation and learning.
Learning: For those of you who are entrepreneurs, don't be afraid to test your ideas out in public and be rejected by customers. Success doesn't happen in our minds, on computer screens or even in a garage; it happens in customers' hands. You will learn if your idea is good in no time once it gets in the customers' hands.