I just thought I'd throw it out there for discussion and debate. I'll be sharing ideas and philosophies that have worked for us.

How about those shares of Starbucks? Trading at about 18 right now. There was a pretty hot debate on the morning drive radio program I listen to about how much they have changed. Is this good or bad for the independents? Tell me what you think.

It pays to keep the blinders on. That's for sure.



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If I think anything about competing against Charbucks, it's that it has caused us all to be better at what we do, and hopefully what we do is make handcrafted espresso and drinks they can't get by pushing a button. Alot of what makes us successful is being the best at what we do. The coffees we brew, and the shots we pull set us apart immediately. That doesn't mean we stick our head in the sand, because I have seen shops come and go under the iron hand of Charbucks. It means we do what we do the best we can do. It's either enough, or it ain't. Take a look in Portland, where there are Charbucks everywhere, yet there are some of the coolest indies there, as well. And those indies are not going out, they are thriving. I do think there will be a point where people just get tired of Charbucks and hearing about them, and I think there are signs it is soon. There are many times I walk past one, and I want to say to the people in line or walking out, "Don't you see how generic Charbucks is?"
Dude, I feel the same way. Our community promise was to always be a good neighbor. We do that by getting and staying involved in some great work in the areas where we have stores. It burns my ass when I see a little league game being played between two teams we have sponsored and the parents proudly holding the wrong cup in their hands for all to see as if it were some sort of symbol. It's a symbol alright, a symbol of ignorance. As independents, we have to be a viable alternative to the chains. There have been way too many indies that have put out crap and that needs to stop. Taking pride in what you do is something that will set us apart from them. The passion is close at hand when you're an independent. That has to show in the cup and in the visit.

This is a pretty great article.
I let my customers bad mouth the big guys... They will, and they'll do it often.

Brett, I agree with that article from Slate (those guys are so smart). The coffee market is huge and specialty cafes are just now maturing. The big guys will take a market share, but so will a competitive independent. I look at it this way. For me, out in the suburbs of Chicago, my customers would not be ready for our approach (third wave baby) to coffee were it not for the big guys. That is the honest truth. We would either not be in business in this area or we would have a lot harder time marketing our product if the big guys hadn't been around here first.

Most on this site would agree, grumply maybe, that the majority of cafes or mom and pops don't serve good quality coffee. Well, we (mom and pop coffee shops) can't afford to do that anymore because the big guys will put us out of business.

In the two years since my shop has been open I've seen FIVE indipendents and one major chain go out of business near us. We stay in business, like many of the cafe owners on this site not because we don't yet have a big guy down the road but because we can compete.

Location - Atmosphere - Product Quality - Service Quality

All equally important.

Jason, I feel your angst. We're right next to a salon. I sometimes see salon employees walking into work with a Starbucks cup... and we give them a freaking discount. What the hell right?

On the other hand, we are still in business and improving every quarter because, like Brett says, "Taking pride in what you do is something that will set (you) apart from them."
#1 - ALWAYS be a customer at your competitors cafes.
#2 - Categorize what you like and dislike about their menu, customer service and quality.
#3 - Learn from your competitors mistakes.
#4 - NEVER badmouth anyone in the industry! Let your quality and customer service be your argument against your competition.
#5 - Never copy! Create your own personality and perspective.
#6 - Promote your own selling story, promote your local connection, and be involved in the community.
We never badmouthed anyone specifically (either at Espresso dell'Anatra or Latteland), but we have been know to pour or particularly nice rosetta or make some awesome etch that came out just right, knowing full well that the drink is going to taste awesome and presenting it to the customer saying something along the lines of "the next time you have to go somewhere else, be sure to ask them to do this for you". It's said more along the context of "I take a lot of pride in presenting this to you" than it is a nanny-nanny-boo-boo against anyone else. Of course, there's a little bleed over in perception, but I'm okay with it. From a quality standpoint a good barista should be doing their talking in the cup and saying very little against others...with a tactfully prideful exception here and there.

The silence is deafening.
You nailed it man. It's funny, but sometimes our customers will try to "entice" us to say something discouraging about our competition. Our response to those who do is simple. We do what Howard is so desperate to do right now: we make sure that every visit is a great visit. Not just in the cup, but with the entire experience. I sincerely hope that Starbucks is able to grasp that concept once again. It's bad for all of us when the giant trips or falls.
Well, let see, the big change at the top with Howard taking over again at Starbucks. Let see if he can get ahold of the falling stock and give it a jump start. ( not sure - its to late ) the door is open for the rest of the great shops out there.
I believe the Mc Cafe is the new big chain we will see in the next couple of years while Starbucks puts the brakes on its US Market, and focuses on other overseas markets.
Let see how the dust will settle, I believe the smaller mom and pop cafe locations that stay on top of the game and put out a best product will be the winner in the battle.

Have a great Latte,

Brian Conroy
Brian, agreed. With large recent missteps from Starbucks and Caribou, it does pave the wave for some smaller, really good coffeeshops to pick up some of those customers. I do see McCafes putting a dent in our overall sales, but I think that the difference in what we do and offer will keep us a viable element in the coffee industry. The thing that will make McCafes most successful is the drive-thru element, and the proliferation of McDonalds all across America. But it goes to show, that even if there are missteps from the large players, we can't rest, we must always strive to be the best at what we do. Because there's always going to be a McCafe or something like that on the horizon!
I really think a lot depends on location & demographics. Our shop is in a small town & we constantly strive to be the best & I mean that, it's not just talk. We do cuppings for the public, we give lengthy explanations about the differences between our espresso & the chains, we source only the best, freshest coffee we can get...crap, I GIVE drinks away to customers just because I can. YET, we have a Starbucks kiosk in the grocery store & people flock there because they are told "hey, it's Starbucks." It's like our McDonalds here, it is the most profitable McDonalds in the 4 state area & we only have a population of about 15k people. There are TONS of choices for food here, good fresh food, yet the masses go to McDonalds. Now, you & I both know that the cheeseburgers coming off the grill at Goss' deli down the street taste better, are better for you, & are better for the enviroment, plus it supports our local economy, BUT it doesn't matter, they still go to McDonalds!
I went to the grocery store where the Starbuck kiosk is the other morning to buy some cucmbers & there was one of my best customers in line for a drink. I asked "how are you" & she replied as she shrugged her shoulders, "your stuff is better but hey, it's Starbucks."
I have to agree with Brett from above, it really smokes me to have better products...& the customers even admit it, yet people still fall victim to the marketing prowess of the chains.
I'm freakin' lovin it.
Also, while I'm on my milk crate, I don't know how the drive thru will serve McDs customers. According to the laws of physics, it still takes a specific amount of time to steam milk & pull shots, even with a super, & I am wondering what that will do to their per car allotted time?
McBarista. Nice.
The Stock falls again, $16.80 as of the close on Monday. I am wondering how low it will get and some big buck ( no pun intended) company comes in and just buys them up. It all about the assets and selling them off? who knows what could happen. Time will only tell.

A buyout? now that's an interesting possibility. Look at what a buyer would get - a good network of stores, a huge sales volume, and a brand that is still very strong. Even though the bloom is a little off their rose right now, they are by no means dead - I'd bet that half of the people in this community know what they need to do to succeed.

That Slate article is great. I hadn't seen it before. Thanks!

I do feel like us indie stores can still survive, no matter what the big guys do. But I would definitely rather compete with the Starbucks of 6 months ago than the one we'll get in a few months. However, I do love the fact that so much of the news coverage about their big shutdown 2 weeks (?) ago highlighted the "push-button" drink making that's practiced by the green aprons. We've been trying to drive the "hand-crafted" message home for our customers, now Starbucks is doing it for us too? Thanks, guys!

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