The first book to explore the rise of the Starbucks Corporation--and the caffeine-crazy culture that fueled its success--combines investigative heft with witty cultural observation in telling the story of how the coffeehouse movement changed our everyday lives, from our evolving neighborhoods and workplaces to the ways we shop, socialize, and self-medicate. Journalist Clark provides an objective, meticulously reported look at the volatile issues like gentrification and fair trade that distress activists and coffee zealots alike. Through a cast of characters that includes coffee-wild hippies, business sharks, slackers and Hollywood trendsetters, Clark explores how America transformed into a nation of coffee gourmets in only a few years, how Starbucks manipulates psyches and social habits to snare loyal customers, and why many of the things we think we know about the coffee commodity chain are false.--From publisher description.
Clark's tone and voice are very enjoyable throughout --- I found myself laughing out loud several times in the course of reading. But make no mistake, this is a serious, well researched study of one of the world's most pervasive companies.
But, back to Starbucks:
Clark starts out by discussing the draw of Starbucks. I hadn’t considered it before, but this section spurred a lot of thought in my mind and amongst me and my friends. Starbucks is marketed as a way to indulge yourself and it is an inexpensive way to have something that seems luxurious. For only a few dollars, you can feel like you are pampering yourself. The marketing is brilliant, and the demand for their product is seemingly endless.
Clark also discusses the placement of Starbucks stores. Years ago, Starbucks executives realized that they could put in a store directly across the street from another store, and it would draw an almost completely different crowd. The Starbucks real estate team is top-notch, and they evaluate not just neighborhood education levels, number of children, and where traffic flows, but also the number of times a person visits a shopping center (dry cleaners and video stores are great neighbors for Starbucks, because you have to go back a second time to drop off or pick up items) or even the number of oil stains in a parking lot. Starbucks is perfectly happy to offer large sums of money to landlords in order to oust competitive coffee stores. They will even leave a retail space empty, just to keep it from being occupied by a competitor.
On the other hand, Starbucks has created an industry where one didn’t exist before, and this has greatly benefited local coffee shops. Even though Caribou, the next biggest competitor to Starbucks, has only about 1/4 the number of stores, smaller coffee shops have a very good success rate. The success is far better than that of independently owned restaurants. Also, independent shops tend to do very well when they are located near a Starbucks. It seems that people get hooked on Starbucks drinks (which are mostly milk — they contain just a few cents worth of coffee) and then they venture out and try local places.
This book is filled with these kind of dichotomies. Clark discusses the start of Starbucks (did you know that one of the founders of Starbucks bought Peet’s coffee, which was their initial inspiration, and sold Starbucks?), the coffee bean industry, the fair-trade debate, the way that Starbucks treats its employees, the way that Starbucks kills culture when it invades a new country, the fact that Starbucks basically sells milk, the fact that the espresso at Starbucks is no longer made by the baristas, but by machines, and so much more. It all goes back to what I said above… Starbucks is a big corporate monster, and yet Starbucks has helped a lot of people too. It isn’t black-and-white, and that is precisely why I liked this book. It would’ve been easy to take one side or the other (read Pour Your Heart Into It, the book written by the long-time CEO of Starbucks if you’re looking for a one-sided view.)
I don’t plan on frequenting Starbucks. I will continue to support the local coffee shops and the smaller chains, but I can appreciate the way that Starbucks has changed our world, both for good and for bad. This book was a fairly entertaining read, and I will never look at the coffee industry in the same way!