Starbucks – a counterpoint

A devil’s advocate post

A devil’s advocate post, whoda thunk? As everyone in the known universe knows, Starbucks will be closing all of their stores this evening for three hours of re-training. While many are quick to jump on the anti-Starbucks bandwagon (me included mind you) and jump for joy hoping they would stay closed, I would like to offer up an alternative theory.

Starbucks has seen a significant change in the past couple of months. Their CEO for many years Jim Donald was replaced by former CEO and current Chairman Howard Schultz who made Startbucks into the juggernaut it is today. Howard Schultz took the company public and expanded it to 43 countries. Good? Bad? Not here to decide that.

What has happened in the past 15 years since Starbucks became the coffee giant is that they also became the WalMart of the service industry. People hate them for just being who they are, not because of the quality of their coffee. They became the personification of what many believe is wrong with corporate America. Howard Schultz plans on turning that around.

I liken this shift and change to another company that re-invented itself – Apple. Remember when everyone was gaga over Dell and many trade rags believed Dell or Compaq would eventually just buy Apple outright – like 1995 or so? Well, around that time, Steve Jobs returned to the company and look at them today. A former CEO returned and created a company many now aspire to emulate. Could Howard Schultz be Starbucks’ Steve Jobs?

Being number 1 is a for Starbucks to lose. They must change with the times to stay viable.

The end.

14 Comments so far

  1. aaron kirk douglas (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 10:53 am

    I lived in Seattle in 1989 and worked across the street from one of the original Starbucks at 6th and Pine Streets. The company has had a slow descent into blandness, beginning with the switch to automated espresso makers (can’t these people tell the difference?) and shrinking their cup sizes while keeping the big names. From there the elimination of bean sales & griding, and the addition of McStarbucks breakfasts quickly followed. Now that they serve Starbucks’ brand Seattle’s Best at McDonalds it’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two companies any more.

    Fortunately we have great places all over town now brewing and serving Stumptown and even Seattle’s Cafe D’arte at Anna Banana’s.

  2. Smashing. (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

    Can you name any small coffee shops that offer health and dental insurance? Or better yet offer to help pay for College? Get over it. Move on.

  3. dieselboi (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

    Smashing – you are indeed correct. I chose not to highlight that as my post was more about re-invention and now to be a fanboy of Starbucks. You make a good point about healthcare and other benefits. Larger corporations can offer that.

    Question out to others – do the benefits for employees out way the negative some percieve?

  4. Smashing. (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 7:53 pm

    So when you dislike any other coffee shop do you do as much research as you have on Starbucks? Seriously the way a few people talk about Starbucks you would think the world is ending. It is a business and MANY people like it. What is the big deal? You will always have big corps like this one and small local ones. Go with what ever fits you best. Starbucks isn’t for me but I don’t put it down… that seems really.. umm… adolescent. I personally can’t stand Anna Bananas… not because of the food or coffee but because of the people that go there. The few times I have been there it was less than enjoyable and seemed to cater to high school kids.

  5. dieselboi (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

    Smashing, I’m not bashing Starbucks in my comments here. I personally don’t like their coffee – it doesn’t taste good to me. Yet, I still will go to a Starbucks because they are consistent.

    I prefer Stumptown because I just love the flavor of their coffee.

  6. Smashing. (unregistered) on February 26th, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

    I like stumptown too. I used to live on 34th and Belmont right above the Belmont INN. I lived there for over 5 years… I remember when Stumptown Coffee first opened. It was great… but one thing I noticed was that the people that worked there could get away with having crappy attitudes. One thing about Starbucks is the people are generally pretty nice.
    I go to Spring Creek Coffee now and have my own Keurig Single Cup Coffee Maker for when I want my David Lynch signature Coffee. Now that is a damn fine cup of coffee.

  7. sabernar (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 2:51 am

    Personally, I roast my own beans and make my own espresso/cappuccino every morning. But I do like going to a coffee shop occasionally for some good pastries and make some sort of espresso-based beverage. To me, the food and the feel is most important. You can get a good pull in a lot of different places around town. I went to Ristretto the other day and I enjoyed it. Yummy donuts.

  8. stan (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 8:46 am

    Before I came to Portland five years ago I didn’t drink much coffee. When I was in law school, I drank mostly starbucks. When I first got to town I would go to the Starbucks on SE 28th and Burnside, it was the closest coffeeshop to my house and the staff was nice enough. Then I heard about Stumptown and tried it. The coffee was beyond good. My coffee tastes are pretty parochial and I even I could tell how good it was. I work downtown so If I’m getting something I go to either Stumptown or Coffeeplant. I’ve since moved to NE and that Ristretto on 42nd and Freemont is the ish.

    I don’t think I’ve bought anything at Starbucks in at least three or four years. Not b/c they’re evil or corporate. I’d rather support something local and all of the place that I go get coffee is beyond the level of starbucks. Seriously, automated espresso makers.

  9. george (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 9:55 am

    I think you should be more fair to the Walmart haters. They hate Walmart for their horrible labor standards, criminal corporate culture, anti-capitalist practices, and so on and so forth. Its hard to be informed about Walmart and NOT hate them.

    Starbucks on the other hand, people make fun of that company because its fun. The same way dissing Vancouverites and West-Siders is fun.

  10. Stan (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 10:13 am

    Making fun of Couvites is not fun, it a civic obligation.

  11. sabernar (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    "The same way dissing Vancouverites and West-Siders is fun."

    Whew. Good thing I’m moving to the east side, then.

    And I still think all you guys talking about coffee shops are missing out on one of the most important coffee shop items (mentioned in my first comment): pastries. Top notch pastries will have me coming back to a coffee shop again and again. Unless there is a good bakery even closer, of course.

  12. Rambling Canuck (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    Interesting post. For me, I don’t hate Starbucks for becoming an empire and completely permeating our society. Business is business, and as far as I know, the company hasn’t abused human rights in some far off land (that’s something to hate them for, if true). So how can you hate them for doing well financially? Really, why not hate their devoted customers – they’re the ones who created the empire. So, as I said, I don’t hate Starbucks the business, I just hate the taste of their coffee, plain and simple.

  13. Dodge Ram (unregistered) on February 27th, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

    My thing with starbucks is HOW CAN ANY ONE DRINK THAT JUNK THEY CALL COFFEE? The few times I have been near a starbucks the smell of there coffee wants to turn my stomach, way to strong, bitter and all most burnt. I liked coffee people over there on belmont I really liked the bottled "black tiger coffee" one of those and a baby ruth and I could run faster than the van I was driving.

  14. derrick (unregistered) on February 28th, 2008 @ 9:47 am

    My biggest beef with some of the local coffee shops is that they don’t open early enough in the morning. I’m at work by 7 am and most of these places aren’t open yet (if you know good ones in the northeast that are open early, feel free to share). I walked past Bean (no idea if its good or not) on NE prescott on a Saturday morning around 8 and they still weren’t open. What’s the deal? Isn’t coffee a morning drink (for the most part)? Doesn’t opening early in the morning widen your net of potential customers?

    Anyway, it’s funny how serious we all are about coffee.

    I don’t pretend to understand the economics of it (i suck at math, deal with it), but I read that starbucks rise dramatically reduced the price of coffee beans worldwide, which apparently was disastrous to farmers. I don’t thoroughly understand it, so if you do, feel free to pontificate.

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