There are always people who hate Starbucks. It’s easy to do. A person can find retail coffee brewing houses that make as good, or better espresso drinks, and the die-hard loyalty of Starbucks customers, like myself, can be obnoxious. Even the term, ‘barista,’ can seem pretentious to some.
Still, Starbucks has always done one thing right: exceed customer’s expectations. Note some of their highlights:
- When coffee drinking was dying out with old people who were raised in the era of the peculator coffee pot, Starbucks revolutionized coffee drinking with espresso drinks that created a new generation of caffeine consumers.
- When other food and beverage businesses were trying to get the customer out the door as fast as possible, Starbucks was offering free WiFi and encouraging customers to enjoy a non-work, non-home, ‘third place’ to spend time to relax and enjoy.
- When the coffee/tea/snack menu was becoming boring, Starbucks re-designed their menu and name to become known for more than just beverages.
Starbucks has always tried to do a little more than their competitors, which is why they have stood out.
But lately it seems Starbucks has fallen victim to the accountants and investors. This is to be expected. The average Fortune 500 or equivalent corporation last only between 40 to 50 years. Smaller companies have a much shorter life span.
“The average Fortune 500 or equivalent corporation last only between 40 to 50 years”
Typically a successful company manages become established and then after a period of time it catches fire. This is usually a combination of having a great idea at an unexpected moment. Customers often have a feeling of relief and joy associated with the product or service, a “WOW!” feeling. It can take twenty years or more for a business to have this kind of impact in a market.
If the business can survive the explosive growth phase, the next phase is coasting or reinvention. Coasting companies usually don’t make it to forty years. Competition is always ready to go after the market share of the leader who thinks they’re unbeatable. Anyone can copy and improve upon an idea.
However, the business that works to keep ahead of the competition by offering their customers something extra tend to outlast those who only copy them. Certainly, Starbucks fits this mold.
But at some point the accountants and investors start chipping away at a successful enterprise. They start by whispering, “We can save five cents per unit if we don’t do this. Why should we offer this, it doesn’t bring in revenue!” Soon managers are focusing on saving money to look good, not creating new sales.
“We can save five cents per unit if we don’t do this. Why should we offer this, it doesn’t bring in revenue!”
That’s when the wheels come off. As the company ‘saves’ money the customer begins to wonder why they do business with them instead of the competition. As revenue shrinks, investors get nervous, accountants ring the alarm bells and the pressure to do more with less boils the great people out of the company. At this point the fate of the company is set. The people left don’t know how to offer the unexpected to the customer and if they did, it would be against company policy.
Starbucks became forty on March 30, 2011. Today they are almost 44 years old. So where is Starbucks now?
A few years ago I noticed that most Starbucks stores took away all the trash cans from outside the store. Starbucks offers drive through service and outdoor seating a most of its stores, so it is obvious that outside trash cans are needed, but somewhere someone said, “Why do we offer to take care of people’s trash? It doesn’t provide revenue!” That was the first sign of a change in attitude.
This past holiday season Starbucks was again offering their ‘Sticker’ program for the holiday drinks, offering a free drink for every five holiday drinks sold. At least a week before Christmas Starbucks began running out of the holiday drink syrups. This was in contrary to past years when some of the holiday drinks were available until well into January. Why would Starbucks miscalculate how popular the holiday drinks would be, and how hard would it have been to order more from their supplier?
Of course, without holiday drinks, Starbucks saved money on the Sticker program. Obviously, an accountant projected the maximum loss of free drinks through the Sticker program and cut off the supply when the maximum benefit was reached in holiday drink sales.
The final evidence for me was subtle, but obvious.
Many Starbucks offer a ‘Puppachino’ (whipping cream in a kid’s cup) for people who have a dog. This is an off-menu free service and it caused our dog to go from barking at the Starbucks window attendant to quietly and anxiously anticipating her Puppachino. Today, our Puppachino was water in a kid’s cup with a little whip cream on top.
The simple change in a free service was a deafening moan of a company that is hemorrhaging goodwill from cuts to the veins of good management. No one would offer a cup of sticky, whip cream-laced water to their dog inside a car. It was a slap in the face of the customers. The manager is saying, “we can’t afford to offer this service, but we know you’ll bitch if we stop it, so here, pour this on your backseat.”
Starbucks is in full retreat and is following the spiral downward to be just another company that we will reminisce about in ten years.