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Interesting piece in the Denver Post analyzing the potential impact of Starbucks’ announced growth plans, suggesting that the company may be on the path from being “cool” to being “repugnant.”


• “A couple of guys started Starbucks in Seattle in 1971, selling coffee beans out of a storefront. It was cool. Sixteen years later, another guy bought the company and commenced opening new stores.

“Among the coffee cognoscenti, it stopped being cool quickly thereafter. Urban hipsters greeted the first Starbucks in their cities as tolerable novelties, but even that mild spell never lasted long before fermenting and turning sour.

“For many of the rest of us, however, Starbucks persisted as a happy convenience, an aromatic and pleasant dispensary of liquid energy… We liked lattes. We appreciated that Starbucks made them more available. And soon, doubly available.”

• “This bodes ill. It's hewing, alarmingly, to the Krispy Kreme model of Growth-Into-Plague. Krispy Kreme was cool, but now you can buy the doughnuts in boxes at Walgreens and just about anywhere else hustling Vienna sausages, Diet Mountain Dew and Chile Cheese Fritos.”

• “Starbucks' trajectory - more a metastasization than a linear march - flirts with tragedy, but it does not inevitably lead to image toxicity.”

• “Will Starbucks retain its standing as amiable refuge? Or will the company bully its way to a retail triumph saddled with a reputation more like noxious swamp?

“An interesting twist should inform any predictions. In addition to coffee, the company also is deep into the music business, with music stores, exclusive CDs, and its own XM satellite radio station. It now is pushing warm breakfast sandwiches from select stores. It sells cold Frappuccino and other coffee beverages in bottles, available in convenience stores across the nation. It owns Tazo Teas and Ethos Water, and hawks its own line of espresso machines and other coffee equipment. It has busy tentacles.

“Which brings to mind not McDonalds, but a West Coast company that with clean and laudable efficiency is gobbling up cyberspace while rejecting any association with pestilence: Google.

“Google is cool.”
KC's View:
We have a bias in this discussion in that Starbucks plays a significant role in our day-to-day life. We’re sipping black Starbucks Verona coffee made at home as we type these words, we make a run to the local coffee shop at least five times a week, and our 17-year-old is a part-time barista there – a job that has been a tremendous experience for him.

Just as a matter of full disclosure…

We would agree with the Post that Starbucks has a bit of a tightrope to walk here, trying to retain its sense of “cool” even as it expands in ways that few would have imagined. Our sense of the company, not just as a consumer but also from having met and chatted with CEO Jim Donald, is that there is tremendous sensitivity to this issue at headquarters. The biggest challenge will be to make sure that these priorities are keenly felt at every one of its stores, by every one of its employees.

Not an easy job. But we think that it is a central tenet for the folks in Seattle, just as it should be for every retail organization.