Ok so a long while a go a big crowd of stuffy exec types swarmed into Victrola up on 15th Ave (the original Victrola location). As they sipped their cappuccinos and let their doppios languish for what seemed like an eternity, our fearless manager Tonya waltzed up to the group of ten and 'cordially' asked them what the hell they were doing in our store. We applauded her efforts and it turned out they were on a "research" mission for Starbucks.

We rolled our eyes when they left and thought that was that...end of story...until today.

Starbucks closed down a location on our lovely 15 Avenue a little while ago that was very near the original Victrola Coffee and Art. So that was good news until we soon learned it was just a plot to re-open with a new look.

'So what!' Well here's what: I learned a few moments ago that they're reopening the store under the name: "15th Street Coffee and Tea" ...no Starbucks in the title??

Could they even go so far as to private label the coffee?? Is this a new onslaught on the independents?

Honestly I'm really not that worried, our customers know better. A blender is a blender. Crappy coffee even shoved through a clover is still crappy coffee, but this move makes me wonder how far they're willing to go.

I've been to their 'concept' store by Pike Place Market, nice woodwork, dark earth tones, steal molding etc, but still the blenders and still the same sludge drooling from those plastic, self-cleaning spouts. Same old stuff repackaged.

So this twist does make me wonder what else they've got in store for re-inventing themselves. They open in a week or so, so I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the big green mermaid spews out this time.

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Mark... thanks for sharing! I was so startled by your post, that I actually called both the 15th Ave. store, and the Roastery location to get more info. Obviously, I missed you, but will try to catch up with you later this week. I'm going to have to check out the Seattle Times for their take. I understand that, per the Times, Starbucks used "15th Street" instead of "15th Avenue" in the name of the store. This could have been a Times printing error. Wouldn't it be great if they installed their signage with that mistake! I was somewhere between laughing and shaking my head over the move to emulate an independent. But as a marketing type, I'm curious as heck to see if and why it's going to work. I also want to see the physical layout, equipment options, type of employees and training level, etc. This will be interesting; an opportunity to see how they interpret the successful idependent operator.
This is indeed interesting news, somewhat going against the whole (they wrote it) manual of branding, superbranding, super-dooper branding! I wonder what is going on? Is it a plot to turn Indie goes...against going to Independents by serving theIndie goer the same coffee you would expect to find in...Starbucks?? Al, let us know what your research brings to the surface.
Seattle Times: "Starbucks tests new names for stores"

=> http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2009479123_starbuck...

Given their price wars, they may see this as a way to get poeple to pay more for the coffee. Obviously they believe in independent cafes people are willing to pay more...
This is the reason (one of the reasons) they bought Clover. Smart move. Only offer the best they can get - their 'black label' or what have you (private labeled of course). No *$ in the name, semi-auto machines again, knowledgeable employees. Sounds like it would work well for them in urban areas, maybe not as well in the outskirts. Very interesting move. Trying to create another company to capture the quality focused individuals. All smart big companies do this sort of thing. It is a bad idea to try pull their name up into the quality market, much better to start something completely new, but using the deep pockets of the parent company to fund it.
The sad thing is that some people will probably compare this type of store to their local Starbucks and then tell their friends that they don't drink corporate coffee!
Starbucks wants to participate in a barista smackdown?? This should be fun ;) We have one coming up in August...

Excerpt from Seattle Times article:
------------------------------------
"Starbucks is Starbucks, and we're different from them," he said. (that's Dan - owner of Victrola Coffee)

Then his competitive streak kicked in. "I wonder if they will want to participate in a Victrola Barista Smackdown?"

Pfeiffer didn't flinch at the idea. "We should set that up," he said."
--------------------------------------------------

Ha ha oh Pfeiffer...if you only knew what you'd be getting yourself into...
Komo just interviewed Dan (the owner), should be on the news tonight at 5pm.
I wouldn't be so quick to expect that Starbucks would do "the Starbucks thing" in a concept branded differently from their mainline. Let's not forget that Starbucks is a large company with a wealth of resources no one on this board enjoys.

The possibility lies in the potential of Starbucks testing a concept that mimics the "independent, 3W" cafe. Let's face it, it wouldn't be too hard for them to recreate the 3W thing and do it better than the "real" 3W.
This brings me to a question... What are we in this market for? Is it profit? If so, how are we different from Starbucks? We would have no room to rip on them, other than the fact that they make more profit than we do. Is it for philanthropy? If so, what if this approach by Starbucks causes a substantial positive change in the thrid world coffee grower's sustainability? If they are truly trying to go thrid wave, this would be one of the outcomes. If not, the consumer would know. Are we in this for our love of coffee quality, tradition and community? If so, wouldn't a power broker that is increasing quality, carrying on tradition and building the coffee community be right in line with us?

Long story short, as soon as we see the mermaid arch her back and surface in a new light, our quills come out. Let's calm down and try to find some points of psoitivity from these developments. If Starbucks is truly going to begin pushing those of us who are in the third wave market, then let them push us. This is a good thing. We need a good push. Victrola is an amazing company. Am I a bit upset that they are going to possibly lose business to the tricky mermaid? Absolutely. But, at the same time I am excited. I know that the daily friction that they will have, due to the proximity of their store and the discussions that will go on their store, Victrola will be sharpened more and more. They will only get better. It will force them to refine their approach in marketing, who they hire, how they train, what they offer on their menu, etc... OR, it will show them why they do what they do and solidify their reasoning and identity. Competition makes us better. The bigger and stronger our opponent is, the harder it forces us to work. Plus, we do not approach coffee competition the same way competition is approached in other fields. We win by leading, not by crushing. We are not going to crush Strabucks, but we are going to be better than them. No ammount of money in the world can supply the kind of experiences that we who are passionate about our craft can offer. So let's not get pissed, afraid or disheartened. Let's get in Victrola's corner. Let's continue refining each other, and helping one another. Let's continue to be constructive and curious. Remeber, quality is not a solid wood interior, it's in the heart of the shop. People can discern the difference.
The thing is Joe, we have all heard stories of what the not-so-jolly green giant will do to drive out someone they consider to stand in their way. It would be difficult to not be uneasy, when you know they are willing to do things that you would not. Maybe these prototypes will be different from that. I do not believe it is negative to know the hurdles one may face. How you view them can be either negative or positive.

Competition is a driving factor in the market, and it obviously helps keep you sharp. If they concentrate on creating a separate identity for themselves that focuses on the highest quality coffees, that is a good thing. If they specifically target independents that are doing things right, and try to do them in, that is not a good thing. Victrola and 15thbucks will most likely never have the same micro-lots or COE offerings, but at that point the questions will be;

a)Can that/each particular market support two quality focused shops within such close proximity of each other?

b)If not, who can hold out longer?

This is a bit different than two independents in the same situation.

The good thing is, Victrola is 15thbucks' role model (or one of them). As long as they keep pushing forward, they will continue to be a/the role model.

What I disagree with is: The premise that there will be no heart to a concept store. If they put someone in command who is love with great coffee, like some of us, will they not give everything they have in them to share what they love so much?

It would kind of be like having an Extremely Rich uncle who thinks it'd be cool to own a shop, and puts you in charge because he knows you LOVE and know everything coffee. You can spend any amount of money, do anything your little heart desires. You've been watching COE auctions for the past 3 years - well this year you can win whichever you like the best!

Doesn't mean that's how it goes down, but it is one of the possibilities.

Joe Marrocco said:
So let's not get pissed, afraid or disheartened. Let's get in Victrola's corner. Let's continue refining each other, and helping one another. Let's continue to be constructive and curious. Remeber, quality is not a solid wood interior, it's in the heart of the shop. People can discern the difference.
Independents have a history of complaining too much about Starbucks.
Instead of taking on the challenge they want to remove it.
This could be a great way to light a fire under the independent's butts and get them to start giving better service, quality (yes quality), atmosphere, and price.
If this ends up being a "game changer" then I hope we don't call foul where there is none just to buy time or to demonize the opposition.
-Chris
The majority of independents serve coffee as bad or worse than Starbucks.
There's a number of shops that have all the flash. Machine. good coffee. trained barista... but in the cup, they really don't deliver.

In reality, there's only a small number of very good shops.
And there's only a handful of excellent shops.
Regardless of what they do, Starbucks won't fall into the top two categories.

Competition is great, but I see this as the new owner who swears they are coffee focused, and then ends up opening a copycat of Starbucks. They could change their roasting practices (doubt it) and control freshness... but then they'll just be another independent. Bring it on.

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