Friday, July 17, 2009

This is one of those soapbox posts

I apologize in advance to any of you Starbucks loyalists, but I read this article this morning and I'm really annoyed. The gist of the article is that Starbucks is starting to change it's image by giving their stores individual names that identify with the communities around them. Is this so bad, really? No, but it reminds me of all the reasons I hate to love despise Starbucks.

I love coffee. I like it black, flavored, mocha'd, caramelized, pepperminted, etc... In fact, the only ways I don't like my coffee are weak, with "cream and sugar," or iced (sorry, but if it's not hot, it's not coffee.) Subsequently, I also love coffee shops. I still remember walking into my first coffee shop. It was open really late, the decor was shabby chic, and all of their specialty drinks were named after candy bars - those were my peeps! I was hooked, and after that, I was always seeking out the local shops when I went somewhere new.

Until I couldn't anymore. Because they were all gone. And you want to know why? Starbucks! I hate them for driving out the local shops, and I don't even really like their coffee. But, where do I usually go for Joe? Starbucks. It's a sad situation, but they've made themselves impossible to boycott. And they're just so darn convenient. In fact that's the one thing I do like about them - you're never far from a coffee shop. That, and their drive thru's - that was pure evil genius!

But this new branding thing they're doing, it's like rubbing salt in the wound. I don't care what they call themselves, they will always be corporate coffee. And if by some miracle there was a local shop down the street from a Starbucks, I would always pick the genuine article. Unless I was in a hurry, and it didn't have a drive thru...darn that Starbucks!


morgan said...

you know i feel the same way. i boycotted starbucks for over a year, but w/ at least 2 locations within 2 miles from my office, they are convenient. and, i buy the bottles of it at target to keep in my fridge at work. if only other places could bottle up their goodness, i'd buy it! i think they are changing names so that people get fooled and go in thinking it will be cheaper and more "local" and then wham! in their face! it's really starbucks...sneaky

Alison said...

I agree. I tried to boycott them, as well, for these reasons. Though, I have to admit, I do like their coffee best. I can't believe the little coffee shop near Puerta Vallarta at 56th and Lafayette is still in business with Starbucks just a couple shops away. I'd go there, but they don't have any place to sit and hang out. Ah, the stress of loving coffee! (I also agree that if it's not hot, it's not coffee! Steve would beg to differ...)

Aaron said...

I aknowledge that anything I have to add on this post lacks subjectivity. Its difficult to be objective when you are emotionally invested in something. But I have some things I want to share anyway.

The thing that I found most troubling in your post was that you felt you are lacking a positive experience when you go into Starbucks - that it feels like corporate coffee. That troubles me because that is not the experience that Starbucks intends to create. Quite the opposite. The mission of Starbucks is: "To nurture the human spirit, one cup, one person, one neighborhood at a time." The core of that message is its a personal connection. The product we use to make the connection is a great cup of coffee. Howard Shultz (the founder and owner) often says: 'We are in the people business serving coffee.'

I had a different experience with Starbucks than you. I never experienced a locally owned shop like you described. I remember in college we took a class trip to Chicago and I first went into a Starbucks and being taken in by the environment and energy of the place. It had a magic about it. Then when we got one in Indy it was such a big deal. When I worked at the store at Keystone at the Crossing there were only 3 stores in Indianapolis. It was special place. But it grew and grew and grew and I will be honest - many, many of the stores fail to live up to creating that enriching experience via a great cup of coffee. And if you ask me, and no one did, that is the source of the struggles of the company. When Howard returned as CEO in 2008 and began refocusing the company I think that is what he saw as well. I have seen progress - but these are tough times for everyone and Starbucks is no exception.

So I guess I can relate to your feeling of loss over the local coffee shop. Since that was your first experience. Mine was Starbucks - and if it was gone I know the loss I would feel. And I certainly understand your anger in the role Starbucks played as they grew over the years. Its no more of a shame though than Lowes/Home Depots closing down local hardware stores, or Super WalMart closing down local groceries. I just think at the end of the day we as consumers have a choice. We have a voice in where we choose to spend our money.

Starbucks is not perfect but I want to point out some things you CAN feel good about when you purchase a Starbucks cup of coffee. Because truly, they do try to do good things.
- Starbucks buys more free trade coffee than anyone in the world. What does that mean? It means the coffee growers are paid fairly for their crop. It means they have a chance for a stable future.
- All our coffee is ethically and responsibly purchased and harvested. That means both the people whom grow and harvest the coffee and the earth from which it came are taken care of.
- We offer many organically grown coffess and by 2014 all of our coffees will be organically grown. (It takes time to train the farmers as well as to get the chemicals out of the soils but it is/will happen)
- We work diligently to try to reduce our footprint through the shared planet initiative. I personally recycle cardboard, plastic, and paper from my store and many partners do the same. We have changed everything from composition of cups, lids to the kind of faucets we have behind the counter to offering discounts for using a reusable thermos/tumbler.
- We use hormone free milk
- All our food is free of artificial flavors and high fructose corn syrup

I know Starbucks has its flaws. But again these are some things you can feel good about when you go there, if you choose. It's a corporation, yes, but its a corporation that tries to do good in spite of its shortcomings. Its a corporation that at its core, aspires to enrich your day via its product/people every time you give us that chance.

VerWaynia said...

Alright Aaron, you officially win longest comment ever! You make a very convincing argument. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with Starbucks, I know they do a lot of good things. Plus, I love that they've made coffee so accessible, I just wish we had more options. A little variety would be nice, I guess.

Aaron said...

I think that sentiment has merit, Jeanelle. And I wasn't trying to convince you so much as share my perspective. Either way I appreciate you hearing me out.