retail news in context, analysis with attitude

USA Today has a good story this morning about how Starbucks is a brand that many people love, and that many people love to hate.

Here's how the story frames the situation:

"Starbucks has a problem that every other brand only wishes it shared: It's too damn good. It makes money hand over fist. It turned employees formerly known as counter help into baristas — then slipped them into catchy duds and put some basic benefits into their pockets. It sells the only gift card, that, when given in $5 increments, is still viewed by the receiver as a mini-treasure.

"Oh, did we forget to mention that it makes killer coffee?

"But 43-year-old Starbucks has another problem that few other brands can muster: fear and loathing. Starbucks is everywhere. Its tentacles stretch to 20,184 locations (as of Tuesday) in 60 countries. Some independent coffee shop owners — and their customers — view Starbucks as a pariah. There are gun owners who loathe the fact that they're no longer welcome to waltz into the stores, gun in tow. There are millions who cringe at its sheer audacity to charge up to 5 bucks for a cup of fancy coffee — where folks wait in long lines for it. Then, there's that all-powerful world of social media, where it's always in vogue to Starbucks-bash."

The story suggests that there may be one simple reason for disdain: jealousy.

"There are millions of Americans who hate Starbucks — and its founder, Howard Schultz — mainly because he took a great idea and ran with it, not just down the field, but across the planet. At 60, Schultz not only still has his hair, he has his wits. He has figured out that coffee is just the ground floor. The Starbucks mermaid's mug is appearing on so much stuff these days, you'd think she was a rock star.

"She is, above all else, the symbol of affordable luxury. You may not be able to afford a McMansion — or a Lexus to park in its garage — but millions of us are willing to make that $5 splurge at Starbucks simply because it helps us feel a bit better about ourselves."
KC's View:
And, it makes great coffee - largely dependable and better than some of the swill that passes for coffee in some places.

And I know this. I have a four-to-five hour drive ahead of me today. During that time, I'll have at least two venti-skim-two Equal lattes … and I'll pay for them using the Starbucks app on my iPhone, which tracks my purchases and gives me a free coffee for every 12 I buy. There are millions of people just like me in this, all of whom have bought into the company's brand equity.

Life is good.