An interesting development has been taking place across the business landscape around the country as Starbucks finds itself in the unenviable position of being seen as a corporate titan similar to Wal-Mart and Microsoft. For years, Starbucks has been seen as the best thing to hit a community since sliced bread. But with its continued expansion and some would say oversaturation and impact on community coffee shops, Starbucks has become enemy No. 2 for community activists who want to keep Mom-and-Pop businesses alive, including the independent coffee houses that have long served the communities around them.
Fifteen years ago, Wal-Mart and Sam Walton were seen as consumer-oriented and a friend to all. While their focus has remained, communities have seen the destruction that comes with the entrance of the world’s largest retailer. Without comparison, when Wal-Mart commits to a community, small businesses suffer or are even forced to close up shop because of their inability to compete with Wal-Mart on price and the number of offerings Wal-Mart can put on shelves. In a typical small storefront, the most of any single product a store can put on a shelf is three or four. At Wal-Mart, dozens of choices, with different prices and qualities align the store shelves for the waiting eyes of consumers looking for the best bang for the buck.
The inability to compete has enabled Wal-Mart to gobble up chunks of market share in every community that they have entered. Has anyone ever heard of a Wal-Mart closing because store sales were down? It is unheard of because no company can compete with Wal-Mart because of the scale and scope that Sam Walton’s creation brings to the table. That same complex has found its way to Starbucks as the Seattle-based company now finds itself the brunt of community activism. In Memphis, the earliest Starbucks were inside Barnes and Noble restaurants before stand alone operations began to appear in earnest. That was ten years ago. Since that time, Starbucks has exploded with expansion as it has in every major city across the country and globe. This year alone, Starbucks plans to launch 2,500 new stores. That has to come with some consequences as consumers watch the decline of the coffee houses they have visited all of their lives dwindle in the face of the Starbucks effect.
Which is why web sites such as Ihatestarbucks.com are creeping up on the Internet in large scale. On the anti-Starbucks site you can find a list, state-by-state of where you can go get good coffee instead of Starbucks. While Starbucks continues to make Fortune’s list of the Twenty Most Admired Companies, that admiration is fleeting as droves of baristas jump ship to less corporate coffee houses like High Point Coffee and other startup coffee spaces. Beyond the baristas, the communities have become anti-Starbucks as well. Many have heard of the litigation Wal-Mart faces in some communities when it tries to enter it with a new superstore. For the first time, Starbucks is feeling that same pain.
With the CEO of Starbucks recently talking about the commodization of coffee and the Starbucks brand in a memo the ardent voice of displeasure has been heard in the coffeebean bought offices of the world’s largest coffee retailer. Beyond simple saturation and brand-weariness, communities take a great deal of pride in their local businesses, even when Starbucks sells better coffee, with more choices than their neighborhood business. If they could both survive and thrive in the face of each other, the backlash against Starbucks would certainly die down. But seeing that the death of one is an obvious inevitability communities have taken up the cause of the underdog, the little man; as they rightfully should. It could be one of them.