If you’ve been a regular visitor to jkOnTheRun you know that my work sees me running around most days and Starbuck’s has been a frequent stop for years. I first started frequenting the mega-coffee house(s) when they teamed up with T-Mobile and started offering WiFi. Not cheap WiFi either but then again it’s consistent and I never find the connectivity is down. I’m a coffee lover which helped make my relationship with Starbuck’s a perfect match. I love my triple venti sugar-free Vanilla cappuccino.
A memo from Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbuck’s hit the news this week and it seems he thinks Starbuck’s has “lost its soul”. He wants the chain of coffee shops to regain its lost appeal and more importantly the lost atmosphere that early stores provided. Mr. Schultz, you are right about that, modern stores are almost antiseptic in appearance. When you visited one of the early stores you felt like you were in some artist’s loft in New York or San Francisco, but not now.
In his memo Mr. Schultz thought that the automatic espresso machine eliminated the romance of a visit to Starbuck’s. I think he’s off the mark with that observation. So why do modern Starbuck’s locations not provide the same homey atmosphere the chain was originally famous for? The answer is pretty simple to me so here’s my two cents. The coffee shops began to lose the appeal when the wildly popular Frappuccino was introduced. There are few things so irritating like the blenders that sound like a 747 is taking off at the next table. It is flat near impossible to relax and read or work in the shops with all that racket going off constantly.
I used to walk into a Starbuck’s and find at least one or two people sitting in the easy chairs reading books or newspapers and generally taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of the day. I don’t see that very much any more and I believe it’s because it’s nearly impossible to relax with all the noise. It’s to the point that if I get a business call while I’m sitting at a table I have to walk outside so I can hear my call and not have to explain where I am. Mr. Schultz, you know you have a noise problem when the party on the other end of the phone call understands why the call is so noisy when you tell them you’re in a Starbuck’s. What kind of relaxing atmosphere is that?
Speaking of those tables, what’s up with the uncomfortable chairs? You can’t sit at one of those little tables for very long without your butt and thighs going all numb. It’s hard to continue on with your day when your butt is numb. Get us some comfortable chairs or at least put a little cushion on them. Unless you believe it’s in the company’s best interest to keep turnover high at the tables then your plan is working.
Lastly Mr. Schultz, and this ties into the whole noise thing, when you started selling music in the stores the order was obviously given to play it 24/7, and play it loudly. It must have been a successful plan because every Starbuck’s is doing it now, and over time the volume has been cranked up to the point that now a visit to a Starbuck’s is like a visit to the record stores of old. Loud annoying music makes conversation darn near impossible, and sitting down with a good book an exercise in futility. There’s nothing wrong with softly playing music, heck I love music. But it can’t be the dominating part of the Starbuck’s experience. You’ve got the non-stop blenders for that.