01 May 2006

a tale of 2 companies.....

Hey There.....monday again...

I don't know how many of you watch "60 Minutes" - it was a family favourite growing up (followed by 'Murder She Wrote' - snooze...thats when I got some more reading in...) but last week they did a feature on Howard Schulz. He is the man who bought "Starbucks" from its founding fathers when it was 6 stores old and turned it into, quite literally, a corner staple in American culture. It got me thinking again about the idea of different approaches to doing business, making money and the American Dream.

I remember the first time I saw a Starbucks. It was in 1994 or 1995 or so....it popped up on a small corner of Massachusetts Avenue between Porter Square and Harvard Square. I stopped in one day on my walk into Harvard Square and I thought - "this is cute - the coffee isnt very good - but I like the idea, I like that its different". Right about that time I had a roomie, Kristin, who had been a short order cook during her summers in college at a restaurant on The Cape. She was a really good cook - very tasty vittles and taught me alot about cooking - tho to this day I still cannot stand the taste of ginger - tho not for her lack of trying. She went on to open a restaurant in Joshua Tree called "The Crossroads Cafe" - she sold it (the new owners are still there making amazing food from her recipes) and moved back east to start a salad dressing, and dip company call "Appalachian Naturals". The stuff is to die for...not that I expected anything less from Kristin. [See the link to the right]

I watched last week as Howard Schulz talked about how he came from a slum in Brooklyn and built himself and his company into the chain that it is today (I applaude him for that). But one thing has always bothered me since I started to notice more and more Starbucks popping up....the corner domination. They are opening up 1 Starbucks every 5 hours somewhere in this world!!! I heard about and witnessed in Cambridge how a Starbucks would move into the neighbourhood and the local, long time coffee shop eventually went away. Starbucks did this by moving in, under pricing to encourage new customers than raising the prices when the local coffee shop went out of business. Now I understand that people make choices (so do zoning commissions), we all operate of our own free will....but if there is only 1 choice because a competitor has been 'forced out' than what happens then? What about the small business person who has a dream only to be crushed by Howard Schulz and his crappy tasting coffee? (If anyone has ever seen a Starbucks in my hand in the last 10 years it has been because someone else has purchased it for me). Where and when is there room for someone else? You don't see my beloved Dunkin' Donuts on every corner do you? Yet they have been around forever and I'm sure aren't hurting for cash. When is enough enough?

Then you have Appalachian Naturals....they are a small business out of Western Massachusetts. They use ingredients from local farmers, they use recyclable materials and dammit...its good stuff!!! Here is a business that I am certain won't want to take over the world. There will be room for another salad dressing company in the same way that Paul Newman left room for others...and no doubt - when the time comes - Kristin will 'give back' as Newman does - something that I feel is very important. I didn't see any mention of Howard Schulz' philanthropic ventures on "60 Minutes" but maybe that's because he spent so much time talking about his plans to take over more corners of the world! Remember the documantary "When Walmart Came to Town"? How about "When Starbucks Came To Town"?

Many of you know that I have spent years going out of my way to support local, small businesses...always going to the "1369 Coffee House" or "Buzz Coffee", or "Koontz Hardware Store" in order to do my small part to preserve the American Dream. Starbucks, Walmart, Home Depot....they don't need my hard earned money...it might cost me more for that cup of joe, or can of paint....but its worth it!

Faithfully doing my part, one cup at a time....Thanks for tuning in!

Until next monday!!


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