Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

To Scale, Or Not To Scale? (A Corporate Coffee Tale)

They popularized the term “third place”. It wasn’t home. It wasn’t work. It was a place for the community to gather.

They redefined coffee in America and became a symbol of status in many other parts of the world.

I’ve visited many countries where walking in public with a Starbucks logo emblazened cup brings influence and respect. The prestigious cups are reused over and over again.

With over 31,000 stores, Starbucks is the universal symbol for corporate coffee.


My experience with Starbucks in the mid-90s was always great.

Good product. 

Great customer service. 

Perfect 3rd pace.


Growth has chipped away at every aspect of this experience for me. Now going to Starbucks I have different expectations.

Mediocre product (Growth has required they streamline their roasting process. Even the “blonde roast” is a dark roast.)   

Inconsistent customer service (just a person with a job pushing buttons and slinging coffee cups. It’s rare to find a lot of care.) 

Limited places to sit (Most shops are loud, crowded, and the redesign of many cafes around me have traded soft seating for long tables and straight chairs.)     

In fact, Starbucks is no longer technically considered a specialty coffee shop. They’re considered a fast food brand. The second most valuable fast food brand in the world, behind MacDonalds.

And while there’s definitely a place for fast food, what you are today may not be the same thing you were in 1971. Or 1995. Or last year.

People will not let you live on your past reputation.

Either embrace who you now are and run with it. (Starbucks seems to be doing that well. It's just no longer a place I want to hang out. But a lot of people do.)


Or recognize that your brand values may not be scalable.  But you can stay authentic to your voice. Global scalability is not for everybody.


How do we scale our product, service, and profit? 

That’s not the most important question.   

The most important question is, “How do we scale our values?” 

Note: This is based on one person’s (my) recent experiences with a large and complicated organization.  Starbucks can be commended for many things, including the way they treat employees and coffee farmers.