Thursday, January 14, 2010

Starbucks' Sad Slip

In Everything But the Coffee, Bryant Simon covers the arc of hipness for Starbucks. He dates this from 1992, when the company went public, to 2007, when they first lost money.

My course on coffee houses and public life spent yesterday observing various Starbucks locations. Small groups of students went to the busy downtown store, the inner suburb location with the best reputation as a community hangout, and two successful stores on the arterial roads of Lexington, Kentucky, our nearest city.

Surprisingly, the downtown location seemed to have the happiest interactions, mostly between the baristas and the customers. This is not the kind of place in which regulars would hang around, even if there are people who come in for coffee each day. I think the tone of the downtown store's interactions were better because they did not have a drive-through. The other locations, though, just did not generate much interaction among the patrons.

If you want a timetable of Starbucks' decline to ordinariness, these landmarks might do:
  • 2007 loses money for the first time
  • 2008 closes hundreds of poorly located stores [including one here in Danville, KY]
  • 2009 introduces instant coffee
  • 2010 creates "stealth Starbucks" stores that don't use the Starbucks name or logo.


Bryant Simon said...

Beau -- Thanks for the report. I want to hear more. Maybe I can post some of the clips from the Starbucks visits on my web-site? But here's the question. Why "sad" slip? Bryant

Gruntled said...

I will work on getting you some good film clips, Bryant.

I think the slip is sad because the idea of building third places is good, and I hate to see them fail. Worse, it is possible that some will conclude that the very idea of third places no longer works because the greatest corporate proponent of them did not succeed in making them.

Black Sea said...

This may be a small point, but it seems to me one necessary element for the success of a third place - and I think this is a large part of the appeal of coffehouses - is that they are quiet enough for easy conversation. In my 20s, I was hardly a teetotaler, but I remember how boring it could be even then to hang out with friends at bar, simply because the effort to sustain a converation over the ruckus, usually pounding music played at extreme volume, was overwhelming. After a while, you just give up and silently sip beer, even among friends.

This is one reason why I'd much rather get together today at a coffeehouse, unless the bar is unusally quiet, an old man's bar I guess, but even when I was young, I preferred pubs that weren't deafening.

randy said...

yes, thats it!

bars are just too damn loud for convo; ridiculous, really, to even try.

yet i'd see people doing it-somehow conversing despite pounding noise. i never could.

altho...i suppose its not ALL to the bad if an attractive young lady must lean in close up against one to be heard above the din...