Starbucks stuck in third gear

It all started with a leaked memo.

In the aforementioned memo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz stated the following:

Over the past ten years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.

…and later:

when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, which are now in thousands of stores, blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.


Clearly we have had to streamline store design to gain efficiencies of scale and to make sure we had the ROI on sales to investment ratios that would satisfy the financial side of our business. However, one of the results has been stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store. Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee.

The response to this memo from coffee fans throughout the States was a resounding “No kidding!!”

The media’s response? Well the Washington Post had a headline that posed the question Is Malaise Brewing at Starbucks? An LA Times op-ed stated it clearly when they said Expanding too far too fast can turn companies from offbeat to bland.

Personally, I don’t think that Starbuck’s sterilization has anything to do with “too far too fast”. It’s simply the logical progression of any company’s goal of “trying please every consumer while squeezing the most profit from them”.

As an example let me bring up the two local coffee shops. From the time I enter the shop, until the time I have a drink in my hand – five minutes. This would include chatting with the barrista, and getting a little extra swirl in the latte. If I entered a Starbucks, it would take about half the time, but without the talk and the swirl.

These are little things to be sure, but when you sacrifice a dozen little things, it adds up to one big thing – namely that you’ve become a soulless corporation.

In thinking of the major brand names in the food world – McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, etc. – the only one I can think of that still has some level of “soul” (for lack of a much better word) is Ben & Jerry’s, and even that’s a bit of a stretch.

Mr. Schultz can’t have it both ways. Either you want power and profit, or you want to really, (and I mean really) connect with the consumer.

tags technorati : starbucks

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