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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Coffee Anyone?

What was once a great American brand is continuing a free fall into coffee oblivion. What was once a destination coffee house continues to flail away looking for a way to bring a reticent American public back into their stores.

Starbucks will do themselves a disservice if they try and blame their current economic challenges on outside pressures rather than look deep within their corporate soul.

But this is what organizations typically do, because it is easier to place, rather than accept blame.

Starbucks has lost their way and it started long before the meltdown we are now facing.

It started when they decided they wanted a commodity, rather than an experience. When the big green decided to have a store on every corner, they lost the panache of going to a Starbucks.

Why? Because of overexposure. You see, when something is available everywhere, there is nothing special about it, so why bother?

Now to implement their strategy of coffee carpet bombing, Starbucks began to put stores in strip malls, grocery stores, and any other vacant retail space they could find. And the look of their units took a design beating.

This contributed to the killing of the special coffee experience.

Let me show you what I mean.

Here is a typical US based Starbucks.

Here is a typical Mexico based Starbucks.

You tell me which store looks more inviting to you. When you add this to a company now offering instant coffee, five hundred types of tea, breakfast cereal, sandwiches, and what not, you have a recipe for disaster.

If the company really wants recover their brand, get back to basics. Coffee. In a great atmosphere, at a fair price.

El Jarocho Cafe in Coyoacan, the eclectic neighborhood in Mexico City has done that for years and they are still going strong. Last Tuesday night, when I was there, the line was 10 deep for most of the evening. The atmosphere was alive and a dollar got you a great tasting cup of jose. It has been that way since they started over 50 years ago.

Maybe El Jarocho knows something Starbucks doesn't, or has forgot.

Comments on "Coffee Anyone?"


Blogger Shaw Kenawe said ... (5:27 AM) : 

Yep. Overexposure is bad for photographs and coffee shops.

Here in Boston's Italian section, The North End, we have what is known in Italy as caffe' bars where the main attraction is espresso, machiatto, cappucino, and even caffe' Americano. Some liquores are served, wine too. And the sublime gelato. But it's the coffe that gets people to come, sit, read the newspaper, and chat with one's neighbors.

These "bars" are individually owned and are a meeting place for the residents of this tight little community. There is only one Starbucks-like coffee shop, "Boston Beanery" in the neighborhood, where the college students and assorted yuppies gather with their laptops and hang out. They're doing well, too. Although I predicted they wouldn't.

BTW: That photo of you and your wife is lovely.

Congrats to you both on your years of happiness. Warms my cold little Northeastern-winter heart.

As the Italians say, "Tante auguri!"


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (6:19 AM) : 

Shaw, you nailed the problem of those all in one cameras perfectly.

Just like Starbucks, they can't be all things to all people.

As for the Boston coffee culture, the closest thing I have experienced to it out west is in Portland.

There, real coffee people eschew big green like the plague for the independents.


Blogger jameswolfer said ... (9:29 PM) : 

yeah Portland!!!

Stumptown Coffee is great around here. They have it in a few select places, but in order to serve it Stumptown has to send someone over to inspect every few months to make sure the coffee is still good.

I'm not sure why, but Portland is known as Stumptown. Local coffee (wayyyyy better than starbucks, anyhow) and for around a $1 or $2 less per cup.

Yeah, we shun the big green around here. They are closing up left and right around here. The only ones that seem to be surviving are the drive-through Starbucks or the 24 hour ones.


Blogger Patrick M said ... (4:23 PM) : 

If I can get it at the grocery store, what's the point?

I can say that most of my experiences with Starbucks have come that way, as I live in the middle of nowhere, and Starbucks hadn't penetrated the market where I was when I didn't. However, that's where those little mom and pop establishments come in. Great coffee that's cheaper too.

And my current fav is only a block and a half away.


Blogger swag said ... (7:13 PM) : 

But Starbucks cannot get their "brand back". That presumes you can roll back the clock on 10 years of rampant growth and an additional 15,000 cafes.

Problem is that people still have this 1993 image of Starbucks in their heads and don't realize that the Starbucks of that era has been dead and buried over a decade ago. Like the father who still sees his daughter as his six-year-old princess ballerina, when the girl is 19, drinking at frat parties, and is on birth control.

Starbucks' brand is now in the cutthroat world of mass market, fast food distribution. I would argue that the soluble coffee move was the first thing they did that was true to the reality of their situation in many years. Like most fast food operations, running 16,000+ cafes is a convenience and value play, not a quality play anymore.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (6:33 AM) : 

Well said Swag. It is indeed useless to close the barn door after the horse has escaped.

Thanks for stopping by.


Blogger dmarks said ... (10:40 AM) : 

It is underexposure in my experience. The only Starbucks I know of for many miles is a tiny booth in a supercenter store. I do see them at airports, however. We also have some strong local chains with a major presense. We even have some major national competitors to Starbucks such as Duncan and of course McDonalds.

"Problem is that people still have this 1993 image of Starbucks in their heads and don't realize that the Starbucks of that era has been dead and buried over a decade ago"

That might describe the old "Battlestar Galactica" fans who refuse to warm up to the new, superior series. All you have to do is replace 1993 with 1979, and get rid of the S at the end of Starbucks.


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