The Un-Starbucks?

Posted on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 11:41 am by bryna
A shot of 15th Ave Coffee & Tea in Seattle
A shot of 15th Ave Coffee & Tea in Seattle

For those of you who don’t know, Starbucks recently decided to attempt a de-branding experiment by opening three ‘street level’ coffee shops in Seattle, called 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea.  Why? Good question. I can only imagine it’s an attempt to cater to a clientele that wouldn’t normally go to Starbucks ie. the free-trading, guitar playing, local business proponent, hipster.

Let’s face it. There are people who love Starbucks and there are people who hate Starbucks. There don’t seem to be too many people on the fence. And there aren’t too many people on the fence about 15th Ave either. With this de-branding effort, the love/hate relationship continues.

Take this commentary in Harvard Business Publishing by Peter Merholz:

Perhaps my biggest beef with 15th Ave is that it’s fundamentally dishonest. Everyone knows it’s run by Starbucks, but the website and the store do all they can to suggest it’s a true independent (though the high level of interior design suggests a bankroll out of the reach of most entrepreneurs).

I don’t love the notion of touting yourself as one thing when you’re actually another. It lacks integrity. This is bad branding. However, I disagree with the author that:

There’s no way a corporate coffee chain can create an authentic neighbourhood coffee experience.

Our local Starbucks actually has a neighbourhood coffee shop feel. It’s frequented by a regular cast of characters, and the staff is friendly and actively involved in the community. Yes, the decor might be de rigeur, and the chairs might be a little hard. (Why did they take away our comfy chairs? Why?) But really, it’s the people who make the ‘community,’ not the brand.

That’s where I do have a problem with 15th Ave. I’m confused as to why it’s necessary at all. It seems completely redundant. They’re even selling the same coffee (not sure if it’s at the same price point though).

When you’re already the most popular brand on Facebook with over 3 million fans, you have over 200,000 followers on Twitter, and you’re not doing too bad financially, de-branding doesn’t seem like the likeliest business strategy.

So what’s up Starbucks?

Why not work with the resources you already have, and empower your staff to get even more involved in their communities? Or create customer incentives to reward those who frequent your shops every day?

If you build it, we won’t necessarily come. Serve us better, and we’ll be there (and we’ll bring all our friends).

Tags: ,

{ Comments are closed! }