Wait… What's Your Name Again?

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Have you ever spent years working your way up in the mob after having been sent undercover as a rat into the police academy? Or vice versa? I know these things happen to Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio all the time, but who knew that they could happen at your coffee shop too?

Well once again proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or at least demonstrating how independent retailers are really setting the café culture curve, Starbucks has recently been sending employees into coffee shops around Seattle to see why they’re successful (and why Starbucks has been struggling.) The Seattle Times reports:

Sebastian Simsch, co-owner of Seattle Coffee Works near Pike Place Market, became frustrated last year after large groups of Starbucks employees kept crowding into his 300-square-foot store to look around.

“I thought it was funny,” he said. “We’re this little store, and I thought Starbucks didn’t need to learn from me.”

During the third group’s visit, Simsch let them know what he thought.

“I said, ‘If you want to buy something that’s great, but just to look, that’s not cool,’ ” he recounted. “I called the PR department and said, ‘Never again.’ “

But it gets better. See, it seems that Starbucks is not good enough for Starbucks anymore. In yet another new effort to recapture some of their lost market share, Starbucks is ditching the name Starbucks. Again, from the Seattle Times:

The ubiquitous coffee-shop giant is dropping the household name from its 15th Avenue East store on Capitol Hill, a shop that was slated to close at one point last year but is being remodeled in Starbucks’ new rustic, eco-friendly style.

It will open next week, the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong.

After studying other Seattle-area cafés on the sly “with these obnoxious folders that said, ‘Observation,’ ” according to Victrola owner Dan Ollis, the new not-Starbucks Starbucks will mimick the offerings of the neighborhood coffee shop by adding beer and wine to its menu.

Like Ollis and Simsch I’m not sure that Starbucks’ efforts will be successful. Marketing for example is sure to be a challenge (how do you go from selling a worldwide brand to promoting a chain where every shop has a different name – and are supposed to be unrelated to each other at least in the consumers’ minds?)

To me, it seems a bit like lipstick on a pig, or more relevantly, something like this:

Yes, that’s “Oregon Original” beer only it’s brewed in Cincinatti with water from the Ohio River by a subsidiary of Sam Adams. Needless to say, it’s not an Oregon beer nor would a beer drinker taste it and think it really was.

About the Author

Ken

Kenneth R. Olson is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Washington Huskies. Go Blazers! Go Dawgs!