Though safely ensconced in Santa Barbara, the land of the nearly perpetual 65-degree day, we still can’t escape the vagaries of the seasons. The delusions held by our friends in flip-flops and shorts notwithstanding, it’s getting cold. Barring hibernation, a practice that damages one’s GPA beyond repair, how are we to combat the temperatures plummeting to as low as 50 degrees?
Having grown up in Seattle, I’m steeped – no pun intended – in the tradition of fighting moist, gray weather by indulging in a bit of brewed enjoyment. Sipping a warm cup of some of the black – or brown – stuff while avoiding wind and rain is truly one of life’s little pleasures. Not entirely coincidentally, Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks, now, above and beyond, the country’s dominant coffee shop. I realize that the mere mention of the venture’s name sends some of you into paroxysms of indignation – visions of corporate dominance, wage slavery and burnt beans no doubt dance through your heads. As I’ve discovered, a sizable clump of us would rather ingest Guinea worms than their drinks.
By one form of reasoning, Starbucks is the bad guy. Driven by a feral thirst for profits, the company metastasizes until it’s literally on every street corner, crushing all honest, independent competition and forcing the helpless, caffeine-addicted populace to choke down foul brew at exorbitant prices, only pennies of which make it to the harried single mothers behind the counter. Could Marx himself have painted a grimmer picture?
Truth be told, the economic models conjured in the minds of the anti-Starbucks set are even less accurate than anything that bearded old crank ever put to paper. Those who have whiled away their academic time in front of a hookah may genuinely believe that businesses exist merely to strong-arm consumers into routinely ejecting the contents of their wallet, but a little reasoning can reveal the error of their assumptions, earnest or not.
The most important fact to acknowledge is that businesses, whether they deal in hooded sweatshirts, hot coffee or elaborate smoking devices, either face stiff competition or the looming possibility of it. How can any establishment hope to prevent its customers from straying for a newer, more appealing rival? With any trace of common sense, they’ll bust their collective butt to better satiate the desires of the consumer.
One oft-heard criticism of Starbucks is that they foist products that, supposedly, nobody on their clientele wants. “Who needs all those different kinds of burnt coffee?” the naysayers ask. “And why would they want to order them in those dumb fake Italian names?” It’s a fair question, one worthy of a thought experiment. Imagine if Starbucks actually did provide a menu chock-full of drinks and snacks that nobody really likes. In wee Isla Vista alone, we have at least two alternatives to the big green mermaid. If you walk into Starbucks immediately bewildered by a host of undesirable selections in unfamiliar sizes, what will you do? You’ll head across the street and your money will follow.
If a supplier insists on selling what people don’t want, even a marginally savvy businessman will spy an opportunity to enter the market. By meeting peoples’ wishes more precisely than the existing outlets, firms can continue to exist. By catering to said wishes especially well or at an especially low cost, they gain the ability to grow and, if they’re exceptionally good at what they do, receive complaints from grimy teenagers who pray for something more, er … “indie.”
Corporations are painted as villains bent on shaking down the masses, but a touch of economics reveals that business is, in fact, under the bullwhip and spiked heel of the customer. This is why Starbucks verges on omnipresence: They keep up with our demands. I, for one, hope every business becomes more like Starbucks. To drive the point home, picture a world where all businesses operate like grimy bohemian coffee houses. The survivors would envy the dead.
Daily Nexus columnist Colin Marshall spent his damp childhood in a labor camp, manufacturing Grande cups for the Starbucks Corp.