What went wrong with Starbucks? | Bleader

What went wrong with Starbucks?

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This Trib article about how Starbucks just isn't cool anymore is getting crazy Diggs, but it seems to be off in important ways.

* This brand rep tag cloud says most of what you need to know. Note the size of "burnt" and "bitter"--Starbucks just isn't very good. But more importantly it's gotten comparatively worse than the other options. It used to be that Starbucks really was better than most coffee, because before Starbucks "gourmet" coffee was practically nonexistent. I remember being excited to try Starbucks on a trip to Seattle back in the mid-90s, because there was no Starbucks in Roanoke, Virginia (later in the decade we got one as part of our first Barnes & Noble).

In that sense, Starbucks is a victim of its own success--by introducing people in burbs and towns to good coffee, or at least pricey coffee that was better than most alternatives, it got a large audience accustomed to paying more for a superior product. That in turn helped competitors who offer even better coffee at comparable prices, like Intelligentsia or Metropolis. Now it's Starbucks that's playing catch-up--recently the company cornered the market on $11,000 Clover machines to keep them out of the hands of other shops.

Of course, there was perfectly good, even superior, coffee to be had, but I didn't get it at the time. I will fully admit that I needed the hype to convince me. As with so many things, a reasonably good mass-market simulacrum of a cutting-edge product was a gateway into the full range of offerings.

Starbucks is the DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince of coffee. Maybe the Beastie Boys of coffee. Which is fine but eventually you have to compete with Lil' Wayne.

* Its acolytes are insufferable (note the size of the "pretentious" tag). Just read the article.

* The death of Starbucks may be greatly exaggerated: "there are so many close together that they practically compete with each other. Nearly three-quarters of the outlets earmarked for closure are new ones opened since 2006." In other words, it might not be that too many people hate Starbucks now; instead, the company seems to have expanded beyond any plausible audience, and during a bad time to do so. Times is tight, expensive coffee is a luxury.

* Bad ideas. As Bill Wyman takes pleasure in documenting, the much-hyped Starbucks music label was a total bust.

* While we're on the subject of coffee, I should point out a notable absence in the Reader's Best Of Chicago issue, our Ukrainian Village/East Village issue, and damn near every coffee shop roundup in any local publication: the Mercury Cafe at 1505 W. Chicago. It's basically a great college coffee shop--good music, comfy thrift-store furniture, lots of magazines and books--only with good coffee.

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