Will Starbucks get its soul back?

31 01 2008

starbucksA couple of days ago an article came through on the AP wire regarding a memo issued by Starbucks Chariman Howard Schultz. This memo, delivered to Starbucks top executives about a year ago bemoaned the “watering down of the Starbucks experience. He complained that the company’s unbridled growth had sapped the soul out of the company. In this memo he pointed to the fact that many people find the stores “sterile” and “cookie cutter.”

How often do you see or hear about someone in a position such as Schulz’s being so candid about the company they run? Admitting there is a problem is the first step towards recovery, and Schultz hit the problem right on the head. As Starbucks saturates the market, the funky and cozy coffee houses (remember when they were called that?) have gone by the wayside. People are driven by convenience and efficiency, and its so much easier to pull up to the Starbucks drive-thru to pick up the morning java than to stop at a favorite coffee house and drink inside out of a ceramic cup. The original intent and philosophy behind the coffee house has waned, and in some areas, disappeared. In fact, after Starbucks switched to the fully automated machines, the pungent coffee aroma that used to permeate the air almost completely disappeared as well. Likewise, the craft of “pulling” a great cup of coffee or espresso is non-existent.

Here in San Antonio, I can only think of one coffee house that has retained this eclectic charm and that also serves good coffee. I only know about it because I stumbled upon it. On the other hand, Starbucks has become so ubiquitous through their marketing that even cartoons mimic and parody their logo.

However, hope may be in sight. Schultz is taking steps to bring the soul back to the stores. Different ideas have been tossed around to accomplish this, (like firing the CEO) but their success remains to be seen. I will be waiting in anticipation as I sip an espresso made from my Jura Capresso at home.

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4 responses

31 01 2008
swag

No.

Unless they close 95% of their stores, fire all the low-skilled employees they hired to fill them for their rampant growth, cut ties with their biggest bulk coffee suppliers to focus on more specialized growers with smaller production lots, and elevate the craft among the best qualities of staff, coffee, and machines they have left.

In other words: not on your life.

31 01 2008
K

I mostly agree with swag.

Starbucks was awesome back in the day (“the day” for me being about ten years go). The baristas were friendly, knowledgable, customer service-oriented and — more importantly — knew how to concoct lattes and espressos and mochas without the use of technology. That knowledge has been completely abandoned in favor of the new automated machines; they sacrificed what made them the market leaders — good coffee/espresso/lattes made professionally – -in favor of a speedier process. And everything has suffered since that decision.

I have friends that have worked at Starbucks for over ten years. They are now district or general managers; a few are still store managers. They agree that what really started the downhill slide was the introduction of the automated machines. Because there’s no skill required to operate them, they can hire any slack-jawed kid off the street to work there. And those slack-jawed kids are usually such social reprobates that you couldn’t beat quality customer service skill into them.

Add into all of that the overly-rapid expansion and construction of new stores, which requires even more low-quality staff and you’ve got Starbucks as it stands today. I have little hope that Schultz will be able to turn this ship around completely, but I wish him luck.

Makes me miss Waco sometimes. We only had one Starbucks, but we had a ton of great little coffeehouses. Good old days… 🙂

31 01 2008
ieat

Swag, K – Thanks! But, K, I have to disagree with you about Waco. I can’t imagine missing anything about that place. My post on the Chinese buffet is based on a restaurant at the mall. Its bad enough that I have to attend a funeral this weekend. Its even worse that its in Waco. ;^P

31 01 2008
K

Heh. I think Waco might have gone downhill a bit since I was there. They traded up for Hooters and their 43rd Chili’s or Applebee’s, but they lost really cool hole-in-the-wall places and artsy little coffeehouses. 😦

Sorry about the funeral. If it will make things any better, see if you can try El Siete Mares while you’re there. Great, authentic Mexican (not Tex-Mex) food and it’s BYOB.

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