By: Catherine Cohen
Starbucks has 16,850 shops in 40 countries, and revenues of $10.7 billion. There is no doubt that this is one of the world’s top coffee shops (Business Insider). Starbucks was founded in 1971, and started off as a small coffee shop in Seattle, Washington. Since then, they have became a multibillion-dollar company. With over 87,000 possible drink combinations, how couldn’t they? Besides their coffee though, they like to keep a relaxed comforting atmosphere, have places for people to do work and provide free Wi-Fi in stores. They also have their employees keep up with the latest controversial issues.
The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, likes to keep his company up-to-date and involved in controversial debates. More recently, he decided to start the campaign, “Race Together,” to stir up conversations between baristas and their customers about race and recent racial issues, like the shooting of Michael Brown. With 4,700 stores in the U.S., getting his message across America would not be that hard. Baristas were encouraged to write “Race Together” and/or put stickers on the sides of coffee cups. They published full-paged ads of this campaign in the New York Times and in USA Today. More recently, their campaign has been criticized for “being naïve and even using racial tensions to boost its bottom line” (New York Times). At their annual meeting, Schultz said “he didn’t think Starbucks would solve the country’s “centuries old problems of racism” but that he thinks it can make a difference” (New York Times).
I believe that this will not work, and that it is too risky to have baristas – who are serving you coffee – start conversations about race. People go to coffee shops to grab a quick coffee before work; nobody is staying, hanging around to talk about controversial issues when their bus leaves in 2 minutes. I feel like people will feel uncomfortable or caught off guard. Starbucks wants to keep its image up as being, not only a coffee shop, but also a place to be able to unwind. I can see how having their employees keep up with controversial topics can build a better customer-employee relationship, but some topics may rub people the wrong way. Sticking to “great weather we are having” will do just fine.
In conclusion, this campaign did not last too long before it got criticized. Starbucks came out with this only last month, and already coming out with a “let us explain.” Having good customer-employee relationships is crucial for a chain coffee shop like Starbucks because of local competition, but talking about topics that could make a lot of people uncomfortable is not the way to go.