Thursday, July 03, 2008

Why Starbucks? Howard Understands Why!

So I received a number of interesting emails and Twitter messages yesterday basically asking me why I was so fixated on Starbucks. Well without going into too much detail about my "great idea" let me explain.

You see Starbucks became a trusted friend as I started my second company. Call it caffeine induced delirium or my just plain craziness, Starbucks became a favorite early morning haunt of mine in the late 1990's. As I began my second company I did not sleep much - if at all. I was constantly worrying about closing the deals we needed to close in order to keep the lights on and people employed. With worry comes stress and with stress comes panic. I realized, much to my amazement, that panic when it sets in so much easier to control and extinguish when it happens in public. It is so much better to handle panic and stress by drinking a no foam latte and eating a sweetroll than it is hiding behind a dark desk in the wee hours of the early morning.

Starbucks became somewhat of a respite from my stress. I could stop by there on my way to the office, grab a cup of coffee and actually force myself to think about my business with each long sip of dark roast. The environment was laid back and instantly made me feel comfortable so I began stopping by more and more - okay I admit it...daily. Sometimes I would even stop by during the middle of the day just to catch my breath and to relax. Somehow stress seemed to never want to follow me inside a Starbucks I assumed because the smell of the sweet coffee aroma is somehow its kryptonite equivalent.

Starbucks you see became my little sanctuary, my little space. A place I could come and hang out and let my creativity flow. It was where I first started pounding on my keyboard - first penning a new strategy for my company then more compelling proposal formats. Soon my writing turned to more personal issues like journaling and even creating some pretty interesting fictional stories and poems. No matter what it was, a little caffeine, the environment, a little soft ambient jazz playing in the background, my creativity just flowed.

And I like so many millions of Americans began to drink the Starbucks Kool-Aide.....oops I mean coffee!

Something else happened at Starbucks. I met people. I started having amazingly interesting conversations with complete strangers and loving it. Me and introvert....can you believe it? It was incredible the random faces you would see day after day but oddly enough after a period of time didn't seem so random anymore (see how I becamse a Starbucks Stalker Series). I realized very quickly that Starbucks had a real sense of community in the people that frequented their favorite locations. It was a community I took pride in being a part of.

Any of the articles you read about Howard Schultz's vision revolves around having passionate customers and creating community. His desire was to create a space where people could interact and connect. I think they hit that concept very well early on but today there seems to be less emphasis on it - at least here in Austin and several of the other cities I have traveled to recently. Today's Starbucks there is something missing and when I read they need to close 600 stores and layoff 12,000 workers I wonder, could this be part of the reason why?

Sure there are still people around and the rich aroma of coffee roasting in the back still permeates throughout, the sense of community and connection seem to be gone. People that hang out don't talk to one another - they are too busy plugged into their iPods or using their laptops almost as a shield to fight of approaching conversation (sad really). Employees seem less enthusiastic and far too quick to make you feel inadequate for failing to say a complicated drink correctly. Stores are becoming smaller and there is no real draw to stay and so you see many more people grabbing their drinks to go.

Where did the community vision go?

I am not really sure. But I know we can get it back. We can make our local Starbuck's stores our own little communities again. We can make it both hip and cool to want to connect with others and why not do it over a little cappuccino?

Imagine the Ripple!

Howard the offer still stands...I'll buy the first cup!

Ripple On!!!


Artie Gold said...

Two reasons: Time and Growth.
Most people who'd be working at a Starbuck's would likely be doing it for some limited period of time; particularly for the ones who are more interesting, barrista not exactly a career. Further, as they've grown, the bench gets thin. There are only so many people who are suited -- or suitable -- to help create that kind of environment.

Talent matters. And there's only so much of it.

Thom Singer said...

Starbucks was focused on being "The Third Place" (home and work being the other two). I bought into it as well. I liked going there, but never got my $4 latte to go. The cost was only justified if I had the time to sit, read, relax and talk.

They got away from this once the $4 price tag became accepted. The welcoming feeling no longer seemed to matter to the customer or the company.

Alas, the economy turned and now people are looking at this expense. Without the feeling of community, the office coffee is more appealing.

But I wonder if you can get Howard to call. I think it will take more than asking him. It will take others asking him to talk with you. A board member, his college roommate, his wife's tennis coach, or the guy who cuts his lawn.

You need to launch a full-press ripple. Get you army going to find your six degrees and get someone with access to march into his office and say....Meet Steve Harper.

Either that or dress up in a Chicken Suit and stand outside the company's Seattle Headquarters for a week until he comes out.

I believe that Mr. Ripple can get to Mr. Coffee.

Sue said...

I have to say that I agree with you, Steve. I want to digg this article too, but I'm not sure Digg would accept it... we'll see!

I've only been to ONE Starbucks in my life. This was in Burleigh Heads, QLD, Australia at a shopping center. I went there a couple times during my visit and I never once talked to the other customers. The barrista was friendly, but the customers, even in Australia (if you can imagine THAT being true) were guarded and isolated themselves. If you moved too close to one, they'd back off, not willing to share an arm's length with anybody they didn't know. It was so strange to see and feel, and that has kept me from going to one here in the States.

There seems to be an aura about Starbucks consumers that radiates a feeling that they are too high above me to associate with me. This has probably more to do with my personality than with theirs but it does make me wonder if this has something to do with the recent loss of profits (wouldn't that be the only reason they are closing SO MANY stores?).

Liberty said...

i dont think i ever shared with you that when i started my first liberty fitness in orange county, i lived in downtown san diego (making my commute insanely long at about an hour and a half without traffic) - why? i'll tell ya later...but mid-way through my drive i'd stop by my favorite starbucks EVERYday...and it saved me in so many ways. (i however chose EXTRA foam by they way.) -- this stop was for the exact kind of reasons why you went every day. and now you are right, starbucks has changed, and with it has come a loss of howard's original vision. today the wall street journal announced starbucks will be closing FIVE HUNDRED stores. wow. in the scheme of tens of thousands that doesnt seem significant, but it IS. it's a learning lesson we all must think about.

Find professional movers said...

relax your mind inbetween busy schedules and you will definitely get the results.

Steve Harper said...


I don't think it is so much the change in talent that is their problem. As with many businesses it comes down to how well the plan, the message, the vision and policies and procedures are executed.

Good points you bring up though - as always.

Coffee when I get back through my 5 state tour - late July?


Steve Harper said...


I definitely need Some Assembly Required to make this happen! Any thoughts, suggestions, connections you might have to Howard would be most appreciated my man!

Ripple On!!!

Steve Harper said...


Your comments are right on the mark! In fact so much so that I believe Starbucks needs to make it easier for people who want to connect to connect. A foundational piece of my idea in fact.

I believe if we start by making the environment more open and inviting for people to connect then people would not feel left out or disconnected by their experience.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts as always...

Ripple On!!!

Steve Harper said...


No you never shared that with me but thanks for doing it here. We should talk more about it next time we talk.

Ripple On!!!

Steve Harper said...

Find Your Professional Movers,

Thanks for your comment on this and my other posts. Great to have you reading The Ripple BLOG.

Ripple On!!!