Steven Kates has it wrong on Starbucks

A recent article in the Financial Post by Steven Kates, SFU Business Professor, prompted me to reply.

I also use Starbucks as an instructive example for other businesses. But Steven Kates has it wrong in suggesting that Starbucks needs to "emphasize that it is continually learning how to be a good corporate citizen, not simply appear as one." Sorry, but that is not a relevant response to recessionary times.

He has it right in the first sentence of his article, "I have an abiding love for the Starbucks brand." That is the hot button to push for Starbucks - their astonishingly loyal, dedicated customers. Leverage that relationship to make the business recession proof. Recognize and reward loyalty. Keep them coming back; don't disturb or distract them from the attraction of the ambiance and the attitude that comes with visiting Starbucks. I know of no other brand loyalists that are such fierce defenders of their daily fix. (Some even admit that it's somewhere between an addiction and a cult.)

Starbucks customers might back off the $5 latte for a cup at $3.95 in response to current economic pressures, but they are unlikely to go to Tim Horton's for their coffee.

My advice to businesses in these difficult times is to focus on key customer relationships and know what will continue to work and what needs to change for them to stick with you. Starbucks is doing that very well by eliminating outlets in oversaturated markets and by returning to the service concepts that made them indispensable in the first place.

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