Nah, Howard, your Starbucks isn't a "victim" of its success, it's just feeling the downside of inevitable maturity. America's bad-boy, break-out, Maxwell-House-whuppin' coffee is – middle aged. That's the metaphor flogged in an Oregonian commentary piece, and it works nicely.
"Sea change in a cup," the essay by Ben Santarris and Laura Gunderson, makes several astute observations about CEO Howard Schultz's recent statement on returning to the helm and bringing the coffee giant to heel. They serve up such clever one-liners that you can forgive the slightly overworked device:If an MBA were a doctor and your company a patient, you'd be diagnosed with a most common syndrome of commercial success: maturity. No corporate chief would relish uttering the word, but there it is. Memories grow fonder, knees sound noisier, and, yeah, folks take you for granted. Capitalism's hard on age. Stake out a vast market with the shock of the new – and soon find yourself treated like a stepfather in an argyle sweater vest. It's a law of nature: Everything grows old.
The writers point out that over 20 years Starbucks has reshaped our notion of coffee, and in the process inevitably it has become the (yawn) status quo. As they put it with amusing overstatement:And Starbucks, alas, is today's Folger's.
Another provocative point made by Santarris and Gunderson is the notion that Starbucks' devouring of the independent coffee shops wasn't all bad. Along the way, the Northwest's coffeeshop culture took root, and the indies were pushed to be better. (Not much comfort if your fave little-guy café went under last year, but still.)
"Views from atop a smaller hill of beans," a sidebar accompanying the essay, asks locals, including some indie-company types, whether Starbucks can thrive as the older dude of the coffee world. Matt Lounsbury of Stumptown Coffee Roasters is generous:Starbucks has done a lot to educate the market and help consumer awareness for a certain level of coffee. There's no denying that. ... Regardless of how big they are and your perceptions of them, they care a lot. They're a model of how to pay your workers. One thing we share with them is the idea of a barista being our main employee, and they've set the bar in terms of taking care of their baristas. They have health care, which is a good thing."
Allan Stuart, who opened Allann Brothers, a small roastery, 35 years ago in Albany, Ore., and who now operates 10 coffeehouses outside of Portland, says it best of all. The ebb and flow, the need to create and re-create one's product and service, is just the nature of the coffee-business beast, says Stuart. "It's Coffeewinian."