* International ~ (NASDAQ: SBUX) ~ Starbucks.com *
While a mega-international coffeehouse chain, with its own brand of coffee, and clearly with much consumer conspiracy and debatable controversies especially towards small business, I’d have to say, still to this day, Starbucks is my most favorite (and used) coffee shop in the world. That mere statement gets me a face back-slap from many of my activist anti-corporation friends every time I say I’m at a Starbucks, but they have yet proved to me anything wrong with this giant other than being a giant that pushes out small cafes. But do they really? Are they really that bad? Certainly, they are over-priced. A smaller coffee shop will get me a latte for a cheaper price. (though that usually involves less liquid than I’d get from Starbucks) When I think of reliability, a place while travelling where I can lounge out for hours (and not buy anything if I choose), get online for free, and know the place will most likely be open (at least daytime hours) … Starbucks I can rely on worldwide. (I’m even at one in Ireland as I type this)
For the backpacker, world traveller, telecommuter, and techno-Gypsy … Starbucks is a God(dess)-send. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know how many smaller cafes I’ve been to that I’ve felt gipped, rushed, given sloppy service, and/or couldn’t get online reliably. For a traveller, that is a must. For a budget traveller, a Starbucks can be not only a relief, but a place of security. It is a home far from home, and an office away from your office. The company is based from one of my old hometown’s … Seattle, Washington – and wasn’t a giant back in the day. It too, had its days as a small coffee shop. So do we stop frequenting a business because it becomes world famous and humongous (currently largest coffeehouse in the world)? I think not. Deeper, we need to really look at if the company keeps its ideals or has evolved into “Big Bad Business”. In my experience, I’ve never seen anything bad come from Starbucks. Can someone enlighten me otherwise with facts and figures? Until then – I’d say Starbucks is high on my praise list. Obviously world populations agree as they are bustling across the planet with over 17,000 stores internationally in 55+ countries, 11,000 of which are in their home nation of the U.S.A.
Some would claim the big draw to Starbucks is their own brand of unique coffee. I personally can’t comment on that as I don’t do coffee – hate it with a passion … think it smells nasty and tastes like burnt charcoal wood. I’m a tea person myself, so personally I can say Starbucks has amongst the best chai options in the world, and while not always easy to find in some countries, 90% of the time always has it. Perhaps that’s a big draw for me as a tea person and not a coffee person travelling world-wide in finding a good cup-o-different than a cup-o-joe. Though my coffee connouseur friends claim Starbucks internationally is amongst the best. They sell drip brewed coffee, espresso-based hot drinks, hot chocolate, teas, smoothies, and other cold drinks, offer sandwiches (hot or cold) and panini, pastries, muffins, doughnuts, salads, snacks, and an area of gift shopping from cds, mugs, tumblers, coffee beans, teas, and branded- gifts. Their coffee is so popular, you can find their ice cream and coffee in many grocery stores around the world.
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Starbucks started out as a local coffee bean roaster and retailer in Seattle, Washington on March 30, 1971 at the famous Pike Place Market by founder Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher at the time), Gordon Bowker (Writer at the time), and Zev Siegl (History teacher at the time). They were inspired by their friend Alfred Peet to sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment. They named the company from “Starbuck”, the chief mate on the Pequod in “Moby Dick” as well as after “Starbo” a historic mining camp at Mt. Rainier as a compromise from two of the founder’s debating on the name. The logo is an image of a “twin tailed siren” first coming from a 16th century “Norse” woodcut where the siren was topless and hada fully visible double fish tail with similarities to a melusine. From 1987-1992 they covered her breasts with her flowing hair and still depicted the navel, slightly cropping the fish tail, changing from brown to green in color. From 1992-2011, they removed her breasts and navel with only vestiges remaining of the fish tails. The original vintage logo drew controversy due to the siren’s bare breasts. The siren was removed from the logo completely when Starbucks entered the Saudi Arabian market in 2000 leaving just the crown. In January 2011, they announced they would removed the Starbucks wordmark around the Siren and enlarge the siren image itself.
From 1971-1976 they were a small shop at 2000 Western Avenue until it was relocated to its home location at 1912 Pike Place. They purchased Peet’s green coffee beans and began buying directly from growers. They eventually took over the old Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog distribution center building in Seattle which became the Starbucks Center. Entrepreneur Howard Schultz joined them in 1982 taking over as Director of Retail Operations and Marketing. He travelled to Milan and came up with the idea that they should sell coffee and espresso drinks in addition to their current sales of beans which they were originally opposed to as they felt coffee was for making at home not as a hangout that would distract them from their primary focus. By 1984 they purchased Peet’s taking over their own supply source. As they gave away free samples of pre-made drinks, it began to appear lucrative, and Schultz independently started the Il Giornale coffee bar chain in 1986 to prove his point. By 1987, Schultz’s Il Giornale bought out the Starbucks chain rebranding his outlets as “Starbucks”. They boomed, and by mid to late 1990′s was opening a new store every workday with a mass explosion of outlet locations. They opened their first international store in the mid 1990′s. They’ve opened outlets, kiosks, stands, and licensed stores in grocery stores, bookstores, and other shops. By 2010, they opened their first Starbucks at sea on the Royal Caribbean International aboard the Allure. They have several subsidiary companies such as Tazo Tea Company, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Torrefazione Italia, Hear Music, Ethos Water, and Evolution Fresh. Starbucks brings in over 10.7 billion (USD) in revenue annually and employing over 137,000 worldwide.
Starbucks started a loyalty program in 2008 for registered Starbucks Card users that offered them perks such as free wifi (now wifi is free to all), no charge for soy milk or flavored syrups, and free refills on brewed drip coffee. Today, most Starbucks internationally has some form of free Wi-Fi Internet access though this varies in different regions. US and Canadian cardholders get 2 hours of free Internet by AT&T in the U.S. and through Bell Canada in Canada. In Germany customers get 2 hours of free Wi-fi through BT OpenZone, and Austria/Switzerland offer 30 minutes with a T-Mobile voucher card. Internationally though, its been my experience of no limit free internet in my travels through the U.S., Canada, and Ireland. Some limits and restrictions applied during my travels in England, Germany, and Australia.
Controversially, Starbucks is accused of squashing small coffee shop businesses and impacting cultural markets internationally. In 2003 Starbucks closed all six of its stores in Israel as they felt it was a difficult business environment. They closed their location in the former imperial palace in Beijing, some say because of an ongoing controversy with protestors who objected the presence of an “American chain” in this location as it was “trampling on Chinese culture.” Around this time (2007), they cancelled expansion plans into India until January 2011 where plans began rolling again after a strategic alliance with Tata Coffee, Asia’s largest coffee plantation company. In 2008 they closed 61 of their 84 Australia locations which was deemed because they didn’t understand Australia’s cafe culture. Pre-2007, Starbucks had been using milk that originated from rBGH-treated cows, but cancelled this practice by 2007. By 2009, Starbucks began overhauling its menu items to sell salads and other health-conscious goods, and getting rid of baked goods that had high-fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients. By 2009 Starbucks began releasing annual Corporate social responsibility reports and promoted environmental sustainability methods in their business including a “Grounds for your Garden campaign”. They’ve reduced size of paper napkins and store garbage bags, reduced solid waste productions from their stores by over 816 metric tons, and as a Company ranked #15 on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Top 15 Green Power Partners for purchases of renewable energy. Accusations of excessive water consumption let to a re-evaluation of their dipper well systems and an implementation of a new water saving solution meeting Government health standards. The US Food & Drug Administration granted the first ever approval of recycled content in food packaging for Starbucks coffee cups leading to Starbucks receiving a 2005 National Recycling Coalition Works Award. They have even changed their plastics and considering biodegradable material instead of plastic to line the cups and testing such currently. Starbucks also gives a 10 cent per cup discount to customers bringing in their own re-usable cups and its corrugated cup sleeves are 60% post-consumer recycled fiber. Starbucks is dedicated to Green Building for all its cafes and outlets for water conservation, energy saving, installation of post-Industrial building materials, lighting efficiency, recycled flooring tiles, Forest Stewardship wood products, and use of paints with low volatile organic chemicals. By 2000, the company introduced a line of fair trade products and have become the largest buyer of Certified Fair trade coffee in North America (10% of the global market). All espresso roast sold in Ireland and the UK are 100% Fairtrade. Starbucks acquired “Ethos” bottled water in 2005 claiming to “help children get clean water” by giving .05 cents from each $1.80 bottle sold (10 cents in Canada) to fund clean water projects in under-developed areas (Raised over 6.2 million for clean water efforts by doing this). Critics claim this misleads consumers into thinking that Ethos is a charily when it isn’t as it is for profit. This led to a re-design by Starbucks to state the amount of money donated per bottle in the description. Starbucks began selling “Product Red” goods in 2008 that enables the supply of AIDS medicine for 3,800 people for a year. In addition, with each RED card purchase, Starbucks sends 5 cents to the Global Relief fund helping people living with HIV/AIDS in African countries as well as promoting awareness of the worldwide effort to address AIDS in Africa. In 2008 Starbucks established a volunteer program in New Orleans to help rebuild New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina damage for various projects including house rebuilding, tree planting, and urban gardening. In 2004 they launched “SparkHope” joined with UNICEF in the Philippines to provide early childhood care and development by donations. They have a goal to nurture young leaders, support tea and coffee communities, access to get clean water, foster education in China, rebuilding the Gulf Coast, and sustainability. They initiate numerous community service projects within their local Starbucks branches fostering over 3.3 million USD value in communities by service including youth literacy programs.
Starbucks is often blatantly accused of engaging in “anti-competition” practices to secure their dominant market position. These strategies include buying out competitor’s leases, intentionally operating at a loss and clustering several locations in a small geographic area to saturate the market. They have been accused of buying out Seattle Coffee Company to use its capital and influence to obtain prime locations operating at a financial loss to drive out small independent competitors. Due to some controversy, some stores in Seattles were de-branded of their logo and branding to be remodeled as local coffee houses “inspired by Starbucks” to get away from the corporate image. One of these was named “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” where they host poetry readings and serve wine & beer. They have been criticized of “local-washing” by doing this and labelled as “stealth Starbucks”. Starbucks claims these three locations are “laboratories for Starbucks”. Some attacks against Starbucks involved a 2009 bombing of a Starbucks in New York City which didn’t injure anyone and led to the arrest of a 17 year old who claimed he bombed the store to emulate the movie “Fight Club” and not anyone targeting Starbucks directly. Starbucks has been targeted by numerous parodies and imitations of its logo which has been counter-attacked with legal actions by Starbucks on anything it perceived as infringement. Some Christian bookstores and websites in the U.S. are selling T-shirts featuring a similar logo with the siren replaced by Jesus and the words “Sacrificed for me” around the edge. A UK web site encouraged people to deface the Starbucks logo has caused controversy. Starbucks has been attacked by individuals in various countries trying to harm their image with registered trademarks before Starbucks could and holding them hostage, trademark infringements of their logos, and a Oregon coffee shop operated by “Sam Buck” was prohibited from using her name on her shop front in 2006 as well as a 2003 attempt to cease and desist “HaidaBucks Coffee House” in British Columbia which resulted in them dropping “coffee house” from their name. Many others still use the Starbucks logo unaltered and without permission such as in individual cases with cafes in Pakistan and Cambodia.
There have been calls for boycotting Starbucks for allegedly sending part of its profits to the Israeli military. The charge was leveled due to their CEO Schultz being Jewish and accused him of being an active “Zionist”. Starbucks disputes the allegations stating they do not fund nor support the Israeli Army, that they are non-political and do not support individual political causes. Starbucks is often targeted by activists protesting againsthe Israeli intervention in Gaza forcing closure of a store in Beirut due to demonstrations. In 2009 Starbucks in London was vandalized by pro-Palestinian demonstrators breaking windows and ripping out equipment after clashes with riot police, and hurling a makeshift bomb into the premises. Same year, a pro-Gaza protest held in London involved two groups of masked rioters smashing and looting two Starbucks. The 2010 G-20 Toronto summit protests led to the smashing of a Starbucks windows (as well as other stores) by a “black bloc group” citing “because they support Israel” as the reason. A false 2004 viral email was initiated by a US Marines Seargeant claiming Starbucks stopped supplying the military with coffee donations because Starbucks officially did not support the Iraq War, but this was corrected and found to be false.
One of the remarkable aspects I’ve found about Starbucks is their care and respect they foster to their employees. While I’ve never worked for a Starbucks, many of my friends and former partners had all of which raved about stock options, benefits, and fair rate of pay to the particular given market. There have been grievances, usually related to back pay and employee reinstatements. Grudges led to some Starbucks workers becoming members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as the Starbucks Workers Union since 2004. This led to a settlement in which three Starbucks workers were granted up to $2,000 USD in back wages and firing of two employees who were offered reinstatement. This also led to IWW members picketing various Starbucks in 2006 across the world protesting the firing of 5 Starbucks Workers Union organizers by Starbucks to demand their reinstatement. Since then, worldwide baristas have joined a variety of unions. Some employees at a Kent Washington roasting plant were settled with for charges that they had been retaliated against for being pro-union at which Starbucks admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but paid out $165,000 USD to 8 employees. Strikes in New Zealand in 2005 led by the Unite Union sought out secure hours, minimum wage of NZ $12/hour, and the abolition of youth rates leading to a 2006 settlement resulting in pay increases, increased security of hours, and improvement in youth rates. In 2008 Starbucks was ordered to pay baristas over $100 USD million in back tips over a California class action lawsuit launched by baristas alleging that granting shift-supervisors a portion of tips violated state labor laws leading to further lawsuits in other states. Outside of these incidents, those I’ve spoken to claim Starbucks is very equal, respectful of individual freedoms, choices, and a pleasant working environment. In all the hundreds of Starbucks I’ve frequented, the staff have always been efficient, nice, friendly, happy, and pleasant.
I strongly feel, based on my experiences, Starbucks is still one of the most fantastic coffee shops on the planet. Regardless of the accusations, practices for location monopolies, I think the “pros” of Starbucks and what they do for the world outweigh the “cons”. While a fan and an addict of their chai, I still do balance out visits at independent coffee shops especially when they have competitive later night hours, Chai tea offerings, local supplier support, and free wifi. But for a world traveller, Starbucks has proven to be the most dependable and efficient for the global backpacker and Techno Gypsie I’ve encountered. To find more information on creating a sustainable coffee business, like Starbucks, check out business classes which can be found at business schools.
Rating: [rating:5] 5 stars out of 5. ~ Leaf McGowan, Thomas Baurley, Leafworks & Technogypsie Research Services 2011.
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