Surely by now everyone has heard or read about Starbucks’ most recent venture in Seattle? The now two stores and counting with “out of the box” aesthetics is geared towards the nearby locavore crowd. Much time and care was spent researching independent “third wave” coffee houses to replicate the look and feel of just that.Weathered wood, chalk boards, drip bars, semi-auto espresso machines, and of course Clover brewing systems.
Why after all the effort perfecting their “look and feel” for the past 20+ years, would they bail out 11,000 stores later? Perhaps because in the new economy we now live in, “corporate”, “chain”, etc. are quickly becoming somewhat derogatory terms always were in the world of “third wave”. This is especially true with 18-35s, even more specifically 18 to 35s in urban settings. Meanwhile 36 to 55s in suburbs still clamor for fraternal links by sporting the latest label. This movement of back to basics is prevalent in restaurants these days. Interestingly according to an article in Bon’ Appetite this month, there was a 25% increase of applications for new restaurants in NYC in the first quarter. Coincidentally, most plan to strip back the linens and bright shiny objects for a return to focus on, what else, the food.
As you might expect all the progressive chains are throwing their research teams at this new information and scrambling to fit in so as not to be squeezed out. My first observation of a local casual dining chain was based in Kansas City. Applebee’s glossed over the corporate image by adding local memorabilia to their walls way back in the early 90’s. Whether they are ahead of their time, as they now belong to iHop, depends on your definition of success. Shareholders I’m guessing are relieved. What was important to keep in mind, the food and service, came last. Aesthetics, they believed, were the key to positioning themselves as your “Neighborhood Grill & Bar”. Eventually the locals caught on, and the novelty of a chain disguised as a local lost impact.
So what does this all mean for independent roasters and retailers? In business terms, economies of scale afford you the opportunity for superior customer experience. Assess yours now. Be brutally honest with yourself, address accordingly, and do it with some pressure: time the transactions. Keep in mind Starbucks is working to quietly differentiate themselves from McDonalds and the likes. They are after your target market; the 57%, which are loyal to you just the way, you are. Much like family, your loyal customers overlook the blurry days where everything about their visit was not just right. It’s still “their place” where they go to get coffee, thus the term “loyal”. With that in mind, the points of difference need to be clear. You created this culture and anyone looking to win your customers over will need to be better at your culture than you are. Focus on the coffee and take care of your own, you owe it to them. If you do nothing, no one will steal them, you will eventually give them away, that’s the thing about competition, it exposes our weaknesses and causes us to sharpen our skills, as for Starbucks, can’t blame them for trying.