Screenwriting and Starbucks

Cafés have long been a writer’s best friend. A cliché perhaps, but take it from me, there’s something special about settling into one of those “comfy” chairs and putting pen to paper while enjoying your favorite cup of coffee. It’s the ambiance, the camaraderie of the morning regulars exchanging pleasantries and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting around creating a constant euphoria.

I moved to Seattle eleven years ago this month and quickly fell in love with Starbucks. I was impressed by their reputation and the wonderful hospitality that I was greeted with when entering any one of their establishments. It’s the kind of recognition that is felt when entering your favorite neighborhood spot, with Starbucks it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in; the atmosphere and hospitality is always the same.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a writing streak and I always seem to find a bit of inspiration while sitting in one of my favorite neighborhood Starbucks. This week I made my way into the Starbucks on Gilman Blvd in Issaquah expecting to find “Comfy” chairs next to the fireplace. Upon walking inside, I was surprised to find that this Starbucks location had suffered some sort of cafeteria style redesign. The furniture looks like long
craft tables from a kindergarten classroom and has chairs to match.

The many businesspeople sitting at various tables, laptops plugged in and looking as if they were relegated to a timeout, looked comically odd.

I took my time looking around and taking in all the changes. The warm feeling was gone.  I made my way to the counter and placed my order. The baristas were pleasant and cheerful as always. I’m sure they were coached, “change is good, treat the customers the same”. The counter is now much longer; the menu board has changed and now includes beer and wine.

What?

Okay, there it was in black and white. Starbucks wants to make more money. In one hand you have the loyalists to the brand and the other hand you have the stockholders. What business initiatives can the executives’ drive that they haven’t already done to increase shareholder value? Sell beer and wine.

Really?

Why do the executives at Starbucks think they need to serve beer and wine? Starbucks gets the majority of their business before noon. Does Starbucks really need to “tap” into this evening business? Beer and wine is served at bars, pubs and established restaurants that can support an evening crowd with an ambiance that one might expect. I would speculate that the same people that buy their morning coffee and make up the majority of business for Starbucks will NOT be returning in the evening to down a few beers after work.
It’s just not going to happen.

Starbucks needs to look long and hard at the statistics that drive their business and study the elements that will come into play. Some people in the US job force are still lucky enough to be in the 9 – 5 workgroup. Most of the rest of the country is working what I refer to as “half days”. These workers live in urban cities and outlying areas, suburbs and even further away from their workplace. Their commute is long and tiring each way, they must get up earlier, stay later at work and get home later. Hence the half day or twelve hour work shift. This part of the workforce needs to spend as much time as possible at home with their family to make up for their half day work reality. These are the people that swing by Starbucks in the morning and like their coffee fast and perfect each time. It’s what they come to expect and that’s all they want. This routine will likely stay the same for most of these customers of Starbucks. On the other hand, I count these customers completely out of the statistics that would drive any evening business to Starbucks.

Additional customers to Starbucks are retirees that live close by to their establishments. These customers plan their day well in advance even if it’s a day-to-day routine. They venture down to their neighborhood Starbucks for the same consistent pleasant atmosphere that we’ve come to expect. Safe, warm and inviting, they meet with other retirees and even chat with regular customers that are part of the morning hustle.
Retirees are early to rise and home before the sun goes down. I count these customers
completely out of the statistics that would drive any evening business to Starbucks.

The self-employed laptop liberators make up another part of Starbucks revenue stream. These customers rely on the same consistent service that they have come to expect from their favorite neighborhood establishment. They plan meetings, draw in other customers for Starbucks, spending several hours within an establishment and making multiple purchases. These customers are burnt out by the end of their day and would likely not be part of the evening crowd that Starbucks hopes they will draw, but I won’t count them out.

Starbucks realizes much of their afternoon business from the teen crowd and select half day workers that need their second shot of inspiration. As for the “schools out crowd”, they come to Starbucks to meet friends after school, drink Frappuccinos and enjoy the same consistent pleasant atmosphere that we come to expect; safe, warm and inviting. The atmosphere will definitely change as a result of Starbucks offering beer and wine. Most parents will not want their kids hanging out in an establishment that serves beer and
wine. As a result, Starbucks will lose some of this consumer group as a result to their redesign. I also count these customers completely out of the statistics that would drive any evening business to Starbucks.

I believe Starbucks is introducing this redesign out of desperation. We see this time and time again, corporate greed. Executives are constantly driving initiatives that reduce resources, increase revenue and realize more profit for shareholder value. What executives NEVER factor into their initiatives is LOSS of customer service. The human element is detrimental to ANY business but requires the most attention.

When you direct your driving workforce to run lean, your workers have less time for customer interactions and mistakes are made. This is hardly the frontline worker’s fault, they are doing what they are told and must do so in order to stay employed. This scenario is likely the reason that sales at Starbucks establishments have dropped off in the morning.

Until this week, my wife stopped at Starbucks three to four times a week and has done so for a decade. In the last several months she has experienced a rapid decline in customer service at our neighborhood Starbucks. I’ve seen this myself, less workers performing more duties and working faster. This has resulted in her coffee being prepared incorrectly on multiple occasions, sometimes twice a week. My wife received a package from Amazon yesterday and informed me that she will now be making her morning coffee at home. Not just more often, but every morning. A bottle of Torani Pumpkin Spice now sits next to our beloved Saeco Espresso machine and will likely be ordered on a regular basis. I imagine that many of Starbucks morning customers that make up the majority of their business have the means to invest in their own espresso machine and some have already found or are looking for their favorite syrup.

As for me; I’m searching out independent coffee shops in and around my neighborhood that offers a safe pleasant atmosphere, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, hold the hops. If you reside on the Eastside, checkout the Issaquah Coffee Company! http://issaquahcoffee.com

So where are the beer and wine swilling customers going to come from? That’s anyone’s guess. I’m sure the executives at Starbucks have this one figured out; otherwise they wouldn’t be spending millions on redesigns…unless they succumb to the Netflix trap.

Happy Sipping!

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One Response to Screenwriting and Starbucks

  1. Taylor says:

    I was actually quite happy to see Starbucks pick up on this concept that has been huge in Portland for some time. I love the idea of rare, craft/gourmet coffee, just as much as I love a good pour of a rare or premium beer. The enthusiast will delight in this adoption. I see it as a win-win, much like McDonalds realizing their customers might enjoy getting a nicer coffee with their breakfast. Marketing ploy, perhaps, catering better to their customers, absolutely. Best coffee in the world, absolutely not. Starbucks sees the change coming to the concept of coffee shops as a gourmet experience, offering a limited number of taps of gourmet brews. If there was a Starbucks in my area within walking distance serving craft beers, I would absolutely patronize that.

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