Friday, March 09, 2007

No Soul at Starbucks

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. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can't get the message from being in our stores. The merchandise, more art than science, is far removed from being the merchant that I believe we can be and certainly at a minimum should support the foundation of our coffee heritage.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Well, duh!

Does anyone really believe that Seattle-based Starbucks Coffee Company, which has expanded to 13,000 locations worldwide in the past decade, can maintain the look and feel of the quirky neighborhood coffee shop?

Instead of focusing on the sensual experience inherent in buying a robust cup of coffee, Starbucks made a series on business decisions that "have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience," said Schultz.

Coffee bins and labor intensive espresso machines gave way to push-button coffee makers and "flavor locked packaging." Theater gave way to basistas who no longer have have a "visual sight line (to) the customer."

"The loss of aroma -- perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores," said Schultz in an internal memo leaked on the Starbucks Gossip Blog. "The loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, and once again stripping the store of tradition and our heritage?"

Starbucks is fast food. It's the McDonald's of coffee. Like hamburger giant, Starbucks has standardized every aspect of the specialty coffee business.

In the 20 years since Schultz and his inverstors purchased Starbucks, the corporate "cookie cutter" has stamped out the company's passion for coffee.

In its drive to give customers the same coffee drinking experience around the world, small, independent coffee shops are attracting loyal Starbucks customers, a development that "must be eradicated."

And now, competition has come from an unlikely corner of the fast food market.

"Hoping that consumers are fed up with asking Starbucks for 'double-caramel skim half-caf macchiato' before they’ve even had their jolt of joe," said the Consumer Reports website, "Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald’s have been boosting their coffee cachet."

McDonal's cup of coffee beat out Starbucks on two fronts -- price and flavor.

It seems the morning coffee crowd would rather sip a "desent and moderately strong" cup than one that's "bitter enough to make your eyes water instead of open," said Consumer Reports.

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