Few owners of small
coffee shops and cafes will be upset by the crisis of recent confidence within
the ubiquitous Starbucks chain.
Many of its once
trendy looking outlets now appear to be shabby. Its products no longer look
original. Founder Howard Schultz has returned as CEO after eight years to try
to breathe life back into the organisation. Starbucks is asking its customers
for ideas and – unlike most of these consultations – acting on their
Yet the problem is
deeper than individual products. It was the novelty of the “Starbucks
experience” that made built the chain – which is also why it is doomed to
For most of us, our
first visit to a Starbucks – whether on a visit to the States or when one
opened in our home country – was like nothing we had experienced before. It was
like a leap across the decades on to the set of Frasier. The customer was treated as if he was a sophisticated
cosmopolitan, there to indulge his broad tastes in an environment where he
could work and socialise in comfort.
However, the business
that lives by novelty dies by novelty.
To be new is itself a
competitive advantage, but, by definition, temporary. As soon as the initial
impact wears off, so does the advantage. The “Starbucks experience” is no
longer much of an experience because we are too used to it, and to its numerous
competitors – possibly now just a small local business – may be the next big
new thing, destined to live and die by its novelty.