Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Harlan Koch needs to run Starbucks

It's no secret that Starbucks has been ailing, but part of its latest remedy is worrisome. BusinessWeek details the latest change:

One of the new cost cutting moves announced was the elimination of ready-brewed decaf coffee after noon.

BusinessWeek also noted one of Starbucks' previous cost-cutting measures:

Last year, Starbucks cut back on the number of rotating daily coffees it offered, choosing instead to make Pike Place its daily house brand always available.

Now I can understand if Starbucks wants to cut out the Paul McCartney CDs or whatever. But last I checked, the official name of the company is still Starbucks Coffee Company, and its mission statement is still "To inspire and nurture the human spirit— one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time." Somehow it doesn't seem all that inspiring when you cut back on your main product line. Nokia did it, but it had mobile phones to replace its paper products.

No offense to Howard Schultz, but I suspect that Starbucks needs to be run by an insane person.

Let me give two examples.

Perhaps you've heard of Harlan Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders. He opened a cafe in 1929, created his special fried chicken recipe in 1939, and was considered synonymous with his fried chicken recipe until his death in 1980. Actually, even afterwards, but the post-1980 cartoon character can't compare with the real thing.

The good colonel would do anything to promote his chicken.

Another insane person is Jim Koch. I had never heard of the guy, nor of the Boston Beer Company, until I began hearing these radio commercials for Samuel Adams beer. And he didn't talk about return on investment...he talked about beer. And not just on the radio:

[I]n the mid eighties Jim Koch literally went door to door in the Boston area to convince tavern owners to carry his beer.

Here's a 2003 story about Koch:

Just as Jim Koch is about to paste a sticker for Samuel Adams beer on the cooler of a Manhattan supermarket, the red-faced manager appears. "Don't you dare put anything on my shelves without my permission," he fumes. The brewer musters his most disarming smile and extends his hand. "Hi," he says in the voice made familiar by 15 years of cheeky radio commercials. "I'm Jim Koch, of Samuel Adams beer." The manager is unimpressed: "It's a little late for that," he says curtly. "Please leave my store immediately.

So you have Jim Koch running around in an insane manner in grocery stores, and you had Harlan Sanders running around in an insane manner all over North America (even criticizing Hueblin, who owned Kentucky Fried Chicken, at one point).

What Starbucks needs is a "Harlan Koch" - a spokesperson who is insane about coffee. But Joe "Mr. Coffee" DiMaggio is dead, and Juan Valdez is fictional. Ironically, there is a coffee-lover who would be good for the job:

[A] marketer of kitchen goods and housewares...had an epiphany when he first visited the original Starbucks stores in Seattle in the early 1980s. Used to the ‘swill’ of American filter coffee, he fell in love with the real thing, and knew instantly he wanted to work for this offbeat and passionate company....

In 1982, to the dismay of his parents, he left his position and joined Starbucks, having persuaded the founders to hire him as its marketing director. Security had been replaced by passion.

In his first few months he was sent to a coffee trade fair in Milan. He loved Italy’s crowded, atmospheric cafes, seemingly on every corner, and suddenly realized that the key to Starbucks’ future was not just roasting and selling coffee, but serving it. On this trip he had his first café latte, a mixture of espresso and warm, frothy milk that at the time was almost unheard of in America.

However, this person left Starbucks and started his own cafe, Il Giornale. The rest is history, because this person who got so excited about Starbucks coffee that he left Starbucks was...Howard Schultz.

Perhaps someday he'll return to his first love.
blog comments powered by Disqus