Saturday, July 26, 2008

Everyone needs a "whippin' boy"...I got mine, I guess.

I've become very popular lately among certain corners of the very small coffee universe here in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Well, perhaps despised and scorned would be more apt terms than popular. A few weeks ago a fellow who runs a coffee shop on the west side of Manitowoc submitted a letter to the editor of the local paper (Herald Times Reporter) on the heels of Starbucks' announcement that they would be closing several hundred stores throughout the country. I submitted a letter to the editor with a slightly different viewpoint, which was published both in the paper and on the paper's website. The other coffee shop owner apparently didn't agree with my point of view and decided that, rather than addressing the issue as an adult, he would get personal and come after me with some online attacks.

Rather than recite the tale I'm just going to copy and paste the whole thing f
or you here, in chronological order and with a few additional voices thrown in from others who joined the discussion. It should be noted that the boldened titles before each letter to the editor are from the paper and not the authors. Also, the various comment postings were spread between the two published letters, I'm just listing them here in mostly chronological order for convenience' sake.

July 6
, 2008 - the first letter to the editor by my coffee buddy:

Starbucks displays 'shallow commitment'

"Starbucks to close 600 stores."

A day of reckoning. If Starbucks closes the Manitowoc store, we will see the shallow commitment franchises such as this have to our community.

It will be a notice to the leaders and residents of Manitowoc, who think this overproduced brand is an asset. There are local residents such as myself and a few others who were born and raised here and have invested their savings and hard work into their local cafes.

It's not about a quick Starbuck!

Richard Bouril

Culture Cafe, Manitowoc

July 9, 2008 - my rebuttal letter published in paper and online:

Starbucks helps area communities

While Starbucks stores are generally company-owned and are not, technically speaking, franchises, it is nevertheless an oversimplification to paint all franchise operations as mercenaries with no care, commitment or ties to the communities in which they exist.

Franchise operations are generally owned and operated by entrepreneurs who are born and raised or live in the communities where they run their shops. I said it when Starbucks opened in Manitowoc, and I feel the same way today: Starbucks is an asset to the community.

While it is probably fair to say that they are indeed an "overproduced brand" (which I'm assuming is a bad thing) they are also a successful brand by many other standards and do bring positive things to a community.

Their presence can also be an asset to surrounding businesses, including other coffee shops, and creative entrepreneurs will make use of Starbucks' presence to support and increase their own businesses.

If they do happen to close the Manitowoc location, we will be more than happy to welcome them to downtown Two Rivers. There is, in fact, currently an open space available just three doors down from our shop that would make a great location. Are you listening, Howard Schultz?

David Smith

Stumpjack Coffee

Two Rivers

7/9/2008 8:29:37 AM - my coffee buddy is pissed...his first volley:
You (tikiboy) make alot of assumpions and generalizations, for someone with no experience.A Starbucks in Two Rivers would only ruin the "unique factor" Two Rivers has, and kill any chance you have of surviving.

7/9/2008 10:11:04 AM - my response to his post above:
Well, Rich, let's see how many assumptions and generalizations we can count in your letters:
1) Franchises have shallow commitments to their communities.
2) Franchise owners don't invest their own savings or hard work.
3) Manitowoc county franchise owners are not born and raised here.
4) A store that you personally do not like is not an asset to the community.
5) I have no experience (don't know who I am or much about me do you, Rich)
6) Starbucks would kill TR's uniqueness (then we better get rid of the Cousins Subs, Subway, Pizza Hut, Family Video, Kwik Trip, Mobile, Pick & Save, Piggly Wiggly, & any other chain or franchise operations).
7) Starbucks would kill our chances of survival (no, Rich, it would boost my sales...but you can't understand that and don't have the time or inclination to give you marketing lessons).

No, I'd say you've got the market cornered on assumptions and generalizations.

I do like the "tikiboy" moniker, though...shoulda used that as a screen name, dangit!

7/9/2008 8:07:10 AM - his post on my letter to the editor online page:
obviously this smith has no experience. it's easy to be a armchair quarterback who lives on coat tails of investors. I've done everything well before him and have been in business for over 17 years. I know what I've experienced. Starbucks is nothing more than greed.

7/9/2008 11:09:39 AM - my reply to his post above:
Rich, your "Starbucks is nothing more than greed" mantra may or may not be true, depending on one's point of view. But that cliché really has little to do with whether or not that business is an asset to the community, which I thought was your original assertion. If that's what your argument is then that's where you ought to make it, rather than making childish ad hominem attacks that have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

7/9/2008 11:19:52 AM - continuing my response:
As I replied to your other comment elsewhere on this site, you apparently do not know me or much of anything about me. I'm afraid I've got 10 more years of business experience than you do there, my friend. Although you may be correct in implying that the majority of our start-up financing came from an "investor," who also happens to be my father...but then I've been "riding on his coat tails" forever, and proudly so. After him, I am second in financial input, followed by my partner. I only mention this because I know that you occasionally like to yack about what you don't know and I thought this might be the time to finally correct your misinformation.

7/9/2008 1:15:59 PM - my friend Kim Geiser jumps in:
David I had to use a dictionary a few times to understand your posts below... sheesh.
Competition is only a bad thing for business if you allow it to be. We would all love it if people based all their decisions solely on quality and price but the truth is we as a nation like what everyone else has. I don't really get it but it is the way it is. If you have a Starbucks, McDonalds, Subway or any other chain that people recognize it makes them comfortable and prone to explore a little more. Heck I am an small business owner and consider myself and adventurous traveler but if I see a Starbucks in a town it makes me think ..well if Starbucks with all of their marketing power is willing to open shop here maybe there is more to offer and I am a little more likely to stop.

People like Starbucks because it is always open, offers a consistent product and has a freakishly friendly staff..follow that example and you can take far more satisfaction from stealing business from them!

7/9/2008 3:27:11 PM - my reply to Kim:

The dictionary? For what? Well, of course you're correct in what you're saying, Kim. People unfamiliar with or fearful of specialty coffee will visit a Starbucks because they are comfortable and familiar with it...just as they're familiar with, for example, a MacDonalds. They will go in and find out that this specialty coffee thing isn't so intimidating after all. Their next thought might be "I wonder what that other café is like...I'll give it a look-see." And once that happens most people will choose the friendly and distinctive local shop over the cookie cutter "franchise" shop...where the folks owning and running the local shop have a passion for what they do as opposed to a hired staff with probably little vested interest in the place where they work. Now that's a generalization, but a fairly accurate one. That scenario will only work, of course, if the local shop serves a better product and has better service than the chain store.

Another thing to realize is that where there are a number of similar businesses, and dining businesses especially, there is greater attraction and greater potential for success (to a point, but we are no where near a point of saturation in this area). People are attracted to areas where more things are going on, where more options, not fewer, are open to them. There is an odd sense of fear of any competition and even schadenfreude among some in the business community of this area. "That new store is like us, so they're going to hurt my business. I hope they fail." It's very short-sighted thinking. Competition is almost always good for the consumer, and can also be good for business makes you operate more creatively and forces you to improve what you have to offer. None of us are immune to failure, but rather than griping about competition we ought to be supporting one another for the betterment and success of all. There are enough slices of the pie to go around.

7/9/2008 5:52:51 PM - some gal from Tulsa chimes in:
Helps community??? How in the world are people going to support themsleves on 9.00 per hour? Wait isn't that a bit high for this area?? Why not bring some decent paying industries to the Manitowoc area and pay people decent wages. Wouldn't that be nice? Starbucks employs just a few people and really, why not support local roasters rather thatn a huge corporation.

7/10/2008 7:42:31 AM - my reply to the Tulsa gal above:
All cafés in the area employ "just a few people," but yes, please do support the local cafés and roasters...absolutely! A little off track here, but is $9/hr or the wage that a business pays its employees really the only criteria by which we judge its value to a community? Of course not. Besides, the days of anyone "bringing" an industry to a community (offering decent paying jobs or not) are gone. Traditional big industry supporting a community is far too precarious in today's world. And when they do pack up and leave a location, which is inevitable it seems, they end up devastating the community. More and more, I believe, we will see smaller technological enterprises and service industries forming the core economic foundation of smaller cities. We might do well to scrap the outdated notion of needing some big industry to support the community, and rather get into the 21st century.

7/10/2008 8:04:00 AM - A Stumpjumper joins the conversation:
First of all David it is so nice of you to welcome your competition; shows good sportsmanship of coffee industry. Starbucks is not really competition to the quality of our locals but does show progress in our town when we see these big chains coming in. If we didn't have these chains people would be complaining too that the mayor wasn't doing his job. Its a damned if you do or damned if you don't. Would not want that mayor job whatsoever. I've been to Starbucks and it's nice; very good, pretty, and somewhat pricey. I've been to Stumpjacks and it is great, pretty decor, and reasonably priced (mint latte-yum!) I would definitely support a great business but most of all an owner with a great attitude! Thanks for your shop I love it and so do many others-it has a big warm welcome mat!

July 18, 2008 - the paper runs this story days later:
Manitowoc Starbucks dodges corporate hit list
The Manitowoc Starbucks will keep brewing coffee for now. The Starbucks corp. has released its list of 600 stores that will close in the next few months. Six of the closures involve Wisconsin locations - but Manitowoc's Calumet location is not on the list. Wisconsin stores that are closing are located in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Madison and the Fox River Mall store in Appleton. Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle and has about 11,000 stores in the U.S.

7/18/2008 6:22:27 PM - to which I reply:
Darn it! I was really looking forward to that day of reckoning.

7/18/2008 6:25:08 PM - and:
Does this mean that they do indeed have a strong commitment to our community?

Down goes the muppet...


It's been said that it's good to have enemies (or at least adversaries) and I tend to agree. But, gee whiz, I'd like a better class of adversary than this guy. It's like sparring with someone with the intellect of a muppet (a muppet with no one working it even). At least he appears to have had the sense to realize that he was getting verbally beaten like a cheap rug and decided to hightail it outta there. Haven't heard or seen hide nor hair of him since, but I know it won't last, because this guy is the kind who holds a grudge and who hates everything that doesn't exist outside of his own self-created world and can't help but shoot his self-righteous mouth off about it, regardless of logic, facts or common sense.

Not sure why some of the fonts are different in this post...glitch with blogger?