Monday, July 07, 2008

How Starbucks Broke My Heart

Or: When Numbers on a Corporate Spreadsheet Don’t Tell the Whole Story

I love Starbucks.

I’ve never made any apology for that. I like their products, the personality of the stores, the friendliness of the baristas. I’ve had Starbucks iced lattes from far west Texas to downtown Chicago, from south Alabama to Istanbul, in airports, malls, and on opening day at brand-new stores, and they’ve all been consistently wonderful.

Welcome to Paris, Texas.

A small-ish city of 25,000 in northeast Texas, we Parisians like to think of ourselves as more than a typical small town. Rumors frequently find root here about new businesses that are looking for locations. More often than not, the rumors are quickly debunked (Old Navy? Target? HAH.), but occasionally one turns into reality. Such was the case about two years ago, when the rumor began to spread that Starbucks was coming to town.

When that rumor did turn into reality – well, it was a happy day in Paris! Finally, something measurable that says that Paris is, indeed, more than just another small town. A Starbucks!! We have hit the Big Time, baby! We all watched eagerly as construction began and the store took shape. And when it opened, it didn’t take long for Starbucks to become THE place to meet friends.

No one was more excited than I when the often-dreamed of Starbucks became a reality for us. I’ve been there from Day One. Not daily, but close to it - and since James started working there this summer, it’s been more like a couple of times a day! They know my favorites – my morning Iced Quad Venti Non-fat Latte, my afternoon Venti Shaken Passion Tea Lemonade, or my new favorite, the Venti Blended Lemonade with Passion Tea. They tsk-tsk when I forget to bring my cup from home, because they know that I’m trying to consume less plastic. They remind me to pick up the iTunes pick of the week.

Many of the baristas remember me from Aikin, or they were in class with one of my kids. They call me Mrs. Reed, even though I’ve tried to get them to call me Frances, but now with James working there, they’re starting to call me Momma Reed. I like that. But what I really like the most, is that I’m not the only customer that they know so well. It’s amazing to me to see the number of people come in that the baristas automatically start working their drink as soon as they hit the door.

I’ve been reading with interest all the press Starbucks has been getting lately, as they’ve started to make some decisions about changing the trend that they have found themselves on – declining sales, unprofitable locations, all the corporate things that so often affect the folks on the front lines far more than the folks in the corporate offices.

As multi-store Quiznos franchisees for nearly ten years, Randy and I have seen many changes take place within our own corporate structure. Quiznos, like Starbucks, has suffered greatly from opening way too many stores in too short a period of time and with (in many cases) puzzling real estate choices. Many of our fellow franchisees have been unable to keep up with the changing requirements of a corporation taking sometimes drastic measures to steer Quiznos back onto a profitable path, and have closed or sold their restaurants. This is never an easy choice for a franchisee. No one goes into business thinking they will fail. So we are not unfamiliar with turmoil within a corporation as those in charge try to affect change that will strengthen the corporation as a whole.

How this manifests, unfortunately, is that decisions are made that affect not only the employees of a company, but also the communities involved.

Much to our dismay, we hear that OUR Starbucks is one of those 600 stores currently on the chopping block. At the risk of sounding a tad melodramatic, this is heartbreaking in many ways. As a business owner, I fully understand the need to streamline operations, to cull out the locations that are not profitable, and to reduce overhead. But I would hope that someone, somewhere in the corporate structure of Starbucks might stop looking at the balance sheet for just a moment and see what we – the customers of the store in Paris - see.

All of the things which Starbucks has always been about are present in the store in Paris. Partners who provide quality products, made to correct specifications (which I do not always find in other Starbucks I visit), in a clean and welcoming store. Partners who know their customers, by name and by beverage, frequently starting a drink when they see a familiar car pull into the lot. Partners who are involved in their community. From the store manager, Roger Courson, who seems to be everywhere in town talking about coffee and inviting folks to stop by, to the shift managers and partners who provided coffee and water at the recent Relay for Life – and didn’t leave the stadium until 4:30 a.m., Starbucks employees here in Paris embody the traits I believe that the corporation aspires for all their partners to display.

I know that this location is probably not currently profitable. Sales are probably not what they had originally hoped for. One of the things that should be taken into consideration is that for the entire time the store has been open, the highway directly in front of the store has been undergoing a major construction project. Access to the parking lot is weird right now, and commonly, a visitor to Paris has a hard time figuring out how to get there, and then get back to where they were headed. Even people who live in town try to avoid the area when they can. Many neighboring businesses have been deeply hurt by this project, and the whole city is ready for it to be done. When access is better, I am certain there’d be improved sales. Another thing to consider is that, even if sales are not what they had hoped for, what sales they do have here aren’t going to transfer to another location. Nobody’s going to drive for an hour just to get a Frappuccino.

Randy and I know from experience that sales and profits can come the longer a store has been open. Our store in Hot Springs was not profitable for the first three years it was open. The vast financial resources which Starbucks has at its disposal? The best we had was a MasterCard with enough available credit on it to keep the landlord and our food suppliers happy. It was a challenge to decide whether to keep going there, but we stuck it out, and now it’s doing very well – and getting stronger all the time. That, I believe, will be the case with Starbucks in Paris.

Plus, then there’s the whole goodwill and bad publicity thing. We in Paris don’t need another closed-up building to remind us that Oops! Just kidding! You’re really NOT the big small town you thought you were! PLEASE - close a location where you’ve got three in the same block, or a free-standing store across the driveway from the one in Target, but leave us our one store here in Paris.

IF (and I’m still holding out hope that someone will come to their senses and change their minds) this store closes, I will not feel the same way about Starbucks that I would have felt had they never come to town.

Because now?

Now, they’ve been here, and if they close, they will have screwed over people I have come to know and care about.

HOWARD SCHULTZ, ARE YOU LISTENING?!? Look up from your spreadsheet for just a moment and see what we’re looking at. This Starbucks has barely been open a year. We aren’t giving up on it. It’s far too early for you to give up on it.


Denise said...

Oh my. Chris and I had wondered if our Starbucks would be included in the mass closures. I'd really hate to lose it. Surely they will close one in Sherman (stand-alone or the one inside Target - less than a mile apart!) before they take our ONLY one. I totally agree that the construction on the loop has contributed to any traffic issues they've had. They just need to give us a chance, don't they? So...are we ready to start an email or letter writing campaign???

Dee Martin said...

I second the letter writing and can add more folks to that list. I was crushed when I heard.

Dee Martin said...

You have been DUGG

Randy said...

Could be another loss for our community and a very visible black eye as it will be "obvious" that we couldn't support this concept that has been successful worldwide.
It took me a very long time to warm up to the Starbucks concept and become familiar with it, but now it has a place in our lives.
In my humble opinion corporate didn't give this a chance. They built it in this location when everyone knew the loop was about to torn up for a good while. It was their money so fine if they really liked that spot, but they should be smart enough to wait and see what happens when the new normal traffic patterns emerge.

Anonymous said...

This is a sad thing to hear for all of the reasons you have mentioned, and it surprises the heck out of me that they would even consider closing this store when you have 3 sometimes 4 within in a 1 mile radius of each other in other parts of the country.. I thought those were the ones they would be've got some emails to write.