Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hey Starbucks Here's What Your Missing

The news has not been great for Starbucks as of late. Earnings are way down. The company known for progressive employee recruiting and development now finds itself having to layoff. Stores that once seemed to crop up on every corner are now being boarded up like an empty carcass of hip coolness.

Has the caffeine buzz worn off? Maybe. Has the world decided to that a Venti dark roast Americano is too expensive, especially now that the doom and gloom of the economy seems to be here for at least the foreseeable future. Perhaps. Or maybe it's the business model that Howard Schultz and company once evangelized is in need of a second shot of espresso and drastic real community focused overhaul.

Hmmmm I will go with door number three.

This morning I had the significant and overly caffeinated pleasure of spending time at both a Starbucks and an independent coffee shop called Progress in downtown Austin. Both businesses were a bustle with a lot of SXSW conference goers as well as the usual stream of business professionals, moms, dads, kids and those who seemed intent on camping out with laptops and iPods.

The biggest difference?

At Starbucks there was no cheeriness. There was not a constant stream of people who recognized one another, stopped to chat and share "the latest haps." There was no "loud buzz" of heated and excited conversation. There was just a subdued mood amongst the Starbucks patrons I witnessed, many looking as if their sheepish habits forced them to be there.

Quite a contrast to the feverish funk of Progress I found myself at later on in the morning. People were engaging. People were smiling. There was a sense of unique energy and hip coolness that no matter who you were, young, old, business professional or something else, it was apparent that you were a part of something. Your only ticket to join was the purchase of a delicious baked good or tasty coffee or beverage of your choosing. There was nary a table and you know what, no one cared. People stood wherever. People chatted, cajoled, joked and in general seemed to be having a great time. Just by stepping inside you were part of a hustling and bustling community, conversation and a spirit of creativity that maybe once existed at Starbucks but clearly went somewhere else.

In comparison Starbucks seemed less inviting. Few people stayed - most were "grab and go customers" as I like to call them. Those that did stay seemed to lack genuine enthusiasm. Many looked like lost school children waiting for the teacher to dole out which table to sit at and who to make friends with. These people, your customers Starbucks, were desperate for some sort of engagement (you could see it in their eyes) with anyone other than a moody-over-the-top barista and yet somehow they just didn't find it.

It was no where to be found.

So Starbucks what are you missing? Well you can't push coolness...I get that. I also know you can't force wholesaled changes in your customer's behavior to make your environments more like what I saw at Progress. Or can you. I believe you can.

I contend that for Starbucks to turn their fortunes around they will have to acknowledge, understand and leverage the home court advantage they already have. Starbucks, even with all of the closings, still has locations virtually everywhere. They have an addicted customer base - let's face it they are our legal drug pusher with our drug of choice being caffeine. So if they have both the location and the customers why does a coffee shop like Progress have a decided advantage?

Starbucks lacks connection. They fail to make it fun and easy for people to engage, connect and commune with one another. Think about it, unless you are headed to Starbucks to meet someone you have already made arrangements to meet there, how often do you reach out to connect with another patron? Rarely if ever right? Come on you can tell me because I so know!

Starbucks you are missing the boat by not becoming our community conduit. You so need the Ripple of Connection. Our society longs for it. Our world needs it. Oh and your business can be improved because of it.

Have Ripple and still waiting to have that cup of coffee with you Mr. Schultz. And yes...the offer still stands....I will buy.

Ripple On!!!


Arlin K. Pauler said...

Hey Steve:
Arlin here again.
Your post touches on what I had in mind few months ago when I commented on another of your posts regarding the Starbucks slide. While there are a few stores here in Fresno that the staff are retaining that famous “third place” connection with customers, it seems that over all they are sliding.
I wonder if you could get their attention. Maybe have you publicist send your post to someone inside. Who knows what might happen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Have a fun and fulfilling day.
Your fellow Rippler, the Elder Dude

Steve Harper said...


We are long overdue to catch up. We should chat more about this as I would love to get your perspective and share what progress I have made in getting Mr. Schultz's attention.

Ping me sometime and let's get a call setup!