Lay Off Starbucks!

Why so much hate? Starbucks was called out all over the web and media today for plans to open a stealth branded location in Seattle under a different name. Only the WSJ seemed to report just the facts without the hatred.

Basically, Starbucks is testing out how well it fares if it removes it’s perceived corporate brand from a coffee shop and tries for a more neighborhood feel, called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. I have news for all those doomsayers out there who say this is a sign that SBUX is in trouble: this is not the first time Starbucks has done this. I beleive they had a concept location in 2000 in SF’s SoMa neighborhood.

I am constantly amazed at the level of venom directed at Starbucks. Here is a business that changed the way America drinks and thinks about coffee. Pick up Howard Schultz’s biography, Pour Your Heart into It if you ever get a chance. This book made me love Starbucks and all it represents. Howard had a dream to create a third place in society outside of home and work where people could gather and build community. He wanted to recreate the feel of European coffee bars here in America, by offering good coffee, comfortable settings and a place to gather. And by all accounts, he succeeded in that mission.

People complain about the “real” neighborhood coffee houses not getting their props; that Starbucks is trying to “manufacture” the setting that these more homegrown varietals provide. But I’ve got news for all of you haters out there: Those coffee shops have done extremely well as a result of Starbucks changing the American perception of coffee. None of those smaller guys had that kind of impact. Are they complaining that their profile has increased as a result of Starbuck’s mission and marketing? Some say that Starbucks has put many of those out of business. But I say, not all of them have been put out of business; those who are good have thrived and survived as a result of Starbucks shifting Americans’ attitudes towards coffee and coffee shops. It sort of reminds me of the Sour Grapes tale: just because Starbucks was able to change the culture and profit from it, some of the smaller guys (not all, but some) are bitter. And Starbucks has indeed done a world of good at raising awareness of small coffee farmers and community causes, as well as just educating the public about coffee in general.

What else can Starbucks do but try to test out such concepts? They have such vicious critics of their “big brand” feel so they want to try a new approach. Here’s my thing: if people enjoy the brand experience, the coffee, the ambience of a non-branded Starbucks, what difference does it make who owns it? The experience is still the same to that consumer; their need is still met, the community still gathers there and benefits. When people complain about it just because it is Starbucks behind it, it just seems like a childish tantrum to me.

What do you think? Would love to hear different points of view on this to try to understand all the hatred towards this brand.

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