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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Good points Chris, I agree.

Deferio said:
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
Yes, valid opinion on both sides here. In theory, quality should improve across the board and being sbux haters doesn't actually get us any further ahead. But, what does annoy me about this whole thing is how deceptive it is. Regardless of whether they change their name and look, they are still Starbucks. Their vast resources, buying power, corporate staff, etc., give them a huge advantage that does not make for anything resembling a level playing field in the independent realm. Many customers will buy right into it, not knowing any better, and thinking they're supporting a nice, local independent shop.

Whining about it though is about as useful as resenting them, but I think they should stick to their fast food world. And we need to become activists in our communities when one of these imposter stores moves into the neighborhood, and publicize the fact that it's just another corporate owned sbux w/ an alias.
I am tempted to agree but who said that there needs to be a level playing field?
If we were honest we all...whether independent or not want to gain some sort of competitive advantage over our competition. That is why we use marketing...so that people come to us...and not to some one else....
How dare we?!
We forget that customer loyalty to our shop means customers NOT going to another.
I am all for *bux being open and honest...and it does smack of deception. We should inform the consumer for sure...but not in an alarmist way.
But "creating a level playing field" should never be in the vocabulary of those wishing to increase business or become successful in their venture. It is anti-capitalist and if you are in a business you are involved in capitalism. In order to compete you need to be willing to take from some one else...that is the hard truth.

That does not mean that your goal is their going without...but the bi-product of your gain is their loss.
Starbucks happens to be good at this...If they can do it so can you. What if a rich man decided to open an independent shop next to yours?...I hope we don't think that is different than Starbucks doing it...all deception aside.
It's time to stop blaming them as they manage their resources well(accept the coffee)...for our historical mismanagement of our own resources (including the coffee).
As independents...we need to grow up a fair bit.
-Chris
Very well said! They are giving us even more of the legitimate competition that we are to them. They were not first therefore they follow. Only they do it cheaply and as a fast food chain that sells burgers, only the sell shit (I mean coffee) if that is what the sheep of the workld call what starbucks serves. We are the people that some how one by one need to lead the sheep away from the herd. Sell more french press to your true coffee drinkers and talk to them about the world and you will be like the Beats that started all this Coffee Culture in the States. Viva la Baristas

Joe Marrocco said:
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.
I think this discussion is right on target. Starbucks has, in a sense, 'sent a shot over our bow' as a company and YES it is causing some good things to happen within Victrola.

As far as coffee quality, Victrola continues to evolve in our methods and standards as we always have. Besides some upcoming investments in equipment, that we've had planned for some time, we're really going to continue doing what we've always done: putting all our efforts into the careful selection of unique and flavorful coffees and tailoring every step of our preparation to ensure their natural distinctiveness is highlighted.

If I can pinpoint any weakness in Victrola I think it's been almost a reluctancy to 'sell ourselves' - to be vocal with people about why we think our coffees the best. There's definitely a mindset of letting the coffee 'speak for itself' which has worked well, but we need to be more effective on communicating that quality and the extent we go to produce it. Especially with customers that have never experienced artisanal coffee before.

Earlier this year before the whole Starbucks move, we were revisiting how we can more effectively educate customers and draw their attention to the coffees themselves. That's been an ongoing discussion. So, many of the changes visible now in our cafes, have been planned for some time. If anything, this recent controversy has 'lit a flame under our butts' to make them happen on a much faster timeline.

So that aside, if I have a concern it would be that Starbucks will try to engage us on some other front than quality. I'm not going to list the nightmarish ideas I've had. If it's about beating us at quality, bring it on! But if it's about making shady business moves with an almost unlimited pool of resources and finding any way possible to run us out of the neighborhood I think that would make any independent nervous...and furious!
hmm and about the rumors of a smackdown between Victrola and Starbucks...

A few thoughts: First, we would kick their ass, hands-down, on every point of quality, although they'd probably woop us in the blended drink category ;). But really what I've been thinking about is that I don't want to validate them as worthy opponents. They are not anywhere near an artisanal level of coffee preparation. They're not even in our category of quality and to engage them on that level would be allowing them to 'appear' to the public as 'contenders' or even in the same category which they're clearly not. Also I don't want them to learn from us. Them flooding our cafe with their 'observation' notebooks is as close as they'll get to seeing how we do what we do. Sure they can research and maybe even throw some money around to try and turn some hapless coffee trainer to the dark side but I will play no part in helping them do that.
Yeah, Chris you're right about the "who said there needs to be a level playing field" thing. Life is not fair, and I accept that. And I agree we're all capitalists, even if we're philanthropic and give back to the community, because first you have to make $ or you wouldn't be able to do those extras. But even if the rich guy opened up next door, although I'd be ticked, I still don't think it's the same as what the green apron guys are doing. What it comes down to for me is that I hate seeing the rampant proliferation of chain stores in our country. Some people might think it's American convenience; I think it's making our cities homogeneous, boring places. Starbucks is part of this whole phenomenon. Big chains in any industry end up killing small business. Now this whole mentality is spreading like a cancer to other countries. When I go to Sevilla or Venice, I don't want to see McDonalds or any conglomerate for that matter. I want to experience something unique. It would be great if we could get more of that local flavor back in the each city of the good ole USA.

btw, kudos to Mark, I think you're taking this whole thing in stride quite well, and it can't hurt to be a little more vocal about Victrola's strengths. You know 15th Ave is going to market the heck out of it.
I wonder how deep their pockets will be when they are trying to hire actual baristas to run their shop? I can't even imagine what I would have to get paid to whore myself out to a company like starbucks. Has anyone spray-painted "posers" on their storefront yet?
Mark, you're a good man. I agree that it is a bit un-nerving when you think of the underhanded business that you are at risk of being the brunt of. That I am afraid is a legitimate fear. Yet, If we are vocal and up front about everything, truth and clarity will win in the end. As far as Teresa's statement about being "activists", I am a bit leary about this word. We don't want to have an edge to our community that is anything other than humble, educational, communal, and extraordinarily hospitable. Derek, no spray paint!! This will only get the press involved. All press is good press. We want to keep 15th off of the paper. We need to be educators, but with a positive, upbeat attitude. Mark, your aproach is impeccable and an example to us all. Thank you for having such incredible character. Chris, I couldn't agree with your views more. Thank you for the wisdom and depth you bring to this industry. (and latte art)
I agree. If this is all a true, they are admitting to the world that their brand has problems and that independents are doing something right. Putting quality above quantity I believe is always best for the consumer.

Changing the face of the company, being able to do latté art or using semi automatic espresso machines will not bring quality back to Starbucks. It goes deeper than that. It will be interesting to see though. I would not bet against them that's for sure.

Al

teresa said:
Yes, valid opinion on both sides here. In theory, quality should improve across the board and being sbux haters doesn't actually get us any further ahead. But, what does annoy me about this whole thing is how deceptive it is. Regardless of whether they change their name and look, they are still Starbucks. Their vast resources, buying power, corporate staff, etc., give them a huge advantage that does not make for anything resembling a level playing field in the independent realm. Many customers will buy right into it, not knowing any better, and thinking they're supporting a nice, local independent shop.

Whining about it though is about as useful as resenting them, but I think they should stick to their fast food world. And we need to become activists in our communities when one of these imposter stores moves into the neighborhood, and publicize the fact that it's just another corporate owned sbux w/ an alias.
Everyone deserves a second chance and if it weren't for them, a lot of us wouldn't be in the biz... What do you think?

Read my post on Starbucks' neighborhood stores:
http://espressoliquidators.blogspot.com/
Since when did 2 decades only count as one chance.
This may be better asked as..."everyone deserves a 1,000,000th chance!"
And yes...they are the original trend setters that our industry followed.

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