Friday, August 15, 2008

Zeitgeist: Seattle's Pioneer Square

7:39 AM. Distinct music on speakers : perfect indie pop for a morning cup of coffee. Average age: 43. Males! Woman in bike helmets and knee length shorts! Glasses! Local art on the wall - green, red and blue prints of people. Black and white photos! Brick walls. 30 - 40 foot ceilings. 50 + year old gentleman with ipod, beard, cup of coffee and black Google shirt just walked outside. Yogurt, pastries, Top Pot Donuts and espresso shots being pulled.

This is very much a "Seattle coffee shop" institution. Zeitgeist.

Perfect lighting, outdoor seating, 2000+ square feet, 3 bars against huge open windows and that loud, banjo and organ infested indie music blaring ever so softly out of the speakers: female singer: ohhhh, ohhh, ohhhhh......

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Best Drink Ever!


Honestly, this is one of the best drinks I've "discovered" in a long, long time. Now, there are some other great drinks out there: ice cold water, a bunch of ice cubes and fresh lemon squeezed in before and after. Talking Rain and other sparkling water beverages - good ole' ice cold Coke a' Cola. An ice cold beer.




These are all good, but at the Bite of Seattle this summer there was a booth giving away free samples of drink called Kagome. I tried. I was a convert, right away! I was 'that guy' hovering around the tent, dive bombing in, again and again to pick up yet another 'taste' from their mini cup samples. I was sure these bottles - 30 huge ozs - would be $5..$6....$7...$8...who knows these days. With the price of Kombucha at $3.00 for a 16 oz bottle, or Odwalla's going anywhere from $3.50 to $4.00 for 15.2 oz bottles, I figured high on Kagome - but no....they sell for about $3.89 retail, confirmed at the high end PCC markets in Seattle.



And the taste! Amazing. The consistency is a cross between Welch's Grape Juice and something...smoother, richer, more...substantial. Kagome is a cross between fruit and vegetable juice. Just amazing. The best deal going out there in the "drinks" market - healthy, cheap, quantity, great design of the bottle...this is a great product...

Mango, Ruby Pomegranate, Burgundy Berry (amazing), Purple Roots, Carrot, Vegetable and Carrot Ginger....

Check out their site: http://www.kagome.us/

Get them at any of the major grocery stores....

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baguette Box - Seattle, WA - Fremont Location



I have always had high hopes for Baguette Box! I even remember the first time I heard about it. The owner of a great little healthy fast casual place downtown said “you have GOT to try Baguette Box when you get the chance”. She had just found out I was interested in perhaps starting a ‘concept’ of my own and suggested this as a great example of someone doing cool things with quick / fast food.

Great salmon sandwiches, “Drunken” chicken baguettes, great bread and baguettes provided by Le Panier, cool drinks such as the under served Cricket Green Tea Soda, and a cool all around atmosphere: simple red tables and red chairs, huge chalk board menus, nice people working, open kitchen, outdoor seating, cool independent and freely played, non corporate play list humming over the speakers, local artists on the wall. They have a huge coke machine serving Coke products which doesn’t seem to “vibe” with their story, but ok.


Anyway, they were up to something cool and had the opportunity to really grow that story via execution. I revisited Baguette Box after being gone for about 12 months. Things had changed. The group of 20 or so flies that hovered and greeted me from entrance to cash register was the first sign. The 10 or so black chairs stacked in the far right corner, taking up space in the stand up bar because “…there wasn’t room anywhere else” was a second tip that things weren’t going as well as they could. Mind you, it was 80 degrees and 3pm when I walked in – ample opportunity to set them up outside. There were old boxes for drinks in the back but front of the house facing. Everything seemed dingy, old, sticky and…not clean feeling. There were a few customers in there when I arrived - I believe one other customer came in while I waited about 11 minutes for my sandwich. But there was indication that this place is still popular, or has the potential to be at this location.



*(Old set up: No longer there)


(*New Set up...)

Eric the owner emphasizes great, local when possible and fresh ingredients. That is what he made Monsoon from and that is his emphasis with Baguette Box, with out the fuss. A nice, simple place where you can get great, fresh product. So the idea and mission is there - he just needs his right hand man / woman to take absolute steel stern charge in Fremont.





The chairs, now black with new wood paneled tables, used to be red. Somehow the old red ones had more zing, more cleanliness to them. I' m sure they made this move for space issues, but they could have kept the red tables - unique! The new tables may be more down to earth and "easy" on the diner.

I asked for my sandwich “for here” but they handed it to me “to go”. Which is fine...no big deal. A sign of going the extra step: "would you like us to cut this for you" - or just automatically cut them in half like Subway and Potbelly....




I called Eric the owner to see if he’d like to comment on these issues before I posted: he didn’t return my call. They are – it’s important to note – apparently just hiring and implementing a new manager at this location, but he/she wasn’t there. And it’s important to note – Eric the owner of Monsoon – has had his hands full transferring his business from Seattle to Bellevue with Monsoon’s impending closure on Capital Hill ( in 1 year ) and opening in Bellevue (this fall).

With all of that said: It doesn’t seem like there is passion at this great little place in Fremont. It’s tired after only a year or so being open. No one is tending the light at the end of the tunnel here, or so it seems.

If they did, they could do really, really great things. Maybe their Capital Hill location is doing better – this review is only for their 2nd of 2 locations: Fremont.



Food: My sandwich was OK. Not great! Good to OK. It looks better in these photos than it tasted but the point is made: these are special sandwiches with cool bread / baguettes and greens hanging over the edge. It definitely carried with it all the potential these great sandwiches can punch, but it just was not zinging with freshness. The chicken was not fresh and I could taste that. It was good – good enough. Would I drive 10 minutes again to eat one? Probably not! Would I get another one when passing by? I would – or more likely I’d try something new. But it definitely wasn’t calling for me to return. And with PCC now selling 50 pizzas a day, mostly by the $2.50 slice, there is just that much more competition in the near vicinity.

Suggestions: Cut the sandwich, when wrapped to go, in half - or at least ask. New manager with passion and a direct line to Eric - more involvement and "love" from management, a new emphasis on cleanliness, some one who will organize the store, an emphasis on product knowledge (weak when I aeked the two people working there about drinks, food, sourcing, etc).


(* Local Art...)

This place has great potential but someone with passion about their story needs to step in and execute.

I will keep coming back. I love this place - I want it to do well. I just hope someone who cares comes in and whips things into their potential shape - at that point - this place will be a special Seattle place....

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Really?


Starbucks is really getting behind the Vivanno drink. In full disclosure, I'm not sure what the Vivanno is. I've asked partners: something to do with great and protein and healthy but good tasting too. It's a frappe, I believe. A 'shakey' type of drink. A smoothie. 16g of protein - whey protein. "A nourishing smoothie". I tried a sample...it was good enough - absolutely nothing wrongwith it. I didn't buy one and I'm not inclined to. I don't know why. Another smoothie frappe' thing at Starbucks. Hmm. Just not that exciting. I'm sure they are great. I'm also inclined to think they probably cost in the $4 dollar-ish range.

What caught me was the below ad in the Sunday New York Times online edition this morning.

"How great days are made"

Really? "Today is a new smoothie" Better, but still...

I wish they would quit bs'ing us. How great days are made? Come on Howard. Really? I get it - it's healthy/ier and...I get it. But really? Is it really how great days are made? "No - it's a figure of speech...we're trying to communicate that it's healthier and that it will make you feel better - without coming out and saying it like that, because of course we couldn't say that"

It's just bs.

This ironically was juxtaposed against the following ad by Chevy in the same New York Times edition - a juxtaposition which sheds light on the obviously growing nature of online advertising, communication and expression for big, small and medium companies: AUTHENTICITY! Connection. Being real.



"We share a planet - why not share a dialogue"

Ok. You click and arrive at the following statement:

"At General Motors we take our responsibility for the environment seriously. If that sounds disingenous coming from the world's largest producer of cars and trucks, well, maybe it's time to talk - in depth and frankly. That's what this is: the beginning of a dialogue between people who share a planet. Fact is, we need to talk. We want to talk."

"That's what this is - the beginning of a dialogue"

Obviousy the part I highlighted above is what strikes me as the most impactful statement of all. "Time to talk - in depth and frankly"

Now granted, a frappe' drink / smoothie and saving the planet via frank conversation - as frank as one can have over an internet connection - with the world's largest producer of cars are two different concepts all together, but the point is still the same: one company is still selling you - and at that, a pretty bs-ee type of claim "What great days are made of" - come on. "Great days" is a factor of fate, hard work, love, luck, diligence, honesty, timing, etc. Whatever happened to integrity in Starbuck's Mission Statement. Nothing against this drink - I just wish the company as a whole would be a bit more open and genuine with what they are saying, which is exemplified and alluded to in the Chevy ad. Chevy addresses the fact that yes - it may seem disingenous to come off as "caring" about the environment when we are the largest producer of cars and trucks on the planet, but they beat you to the punch. They own that. And they go on to say it's time we talk about that! Amazing. Very impressive.

And as if the readers of the New York Times online edition aren't both savvy enough and cynical to claims across the screen: What great days are made of! Really...cool..I better click...a smoothie from Starbucks - great. This is what I've been looking for. An ingredient to make my days great.

Life's answer solved in a Starbucks frappe'

Authenticity. Branding. Integrity.

Especially today it's just too important to be open, real and authentic with people - espcially online. The BS meters are high, refined and preciscion sharp and those companies that don't take heed are not - in my opinion - doing their best to be great!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Local (Seattle) Loki Salmon V. Huge Industrial Bumblebee




Walking around Seattle's various farmers markets you can't help but notice the prevalence of Loki Salmon (pronounced "Low-Key"...): whether it's the Bellevue Farmer's Market on Thursday's, the Columbia City Farmer's Market's on Wednesday's or the University District Market on Saturday's...as well as the West Seattle, Lake City and Magnolia Farmer's Markets...Loki Salmon is there. Dylan is your man to see - knowledgeable, friendly, passionate and diligent...he's the perfect "rep" for a great local brand and for his family business that is Loki.




High end (higher end) canned salmon is something I had yet to experience. I was curious to see how it would hold up, both in price point, flavor and overall quality to the traditional store bought brands.

Bumblebee products have been good to me over the years - I grew up as a kid on their tuna fish sandwiches. I still love their products. Even though their below salmon shots don't look all that appealing, the taste and value are fare to really good. But as we become more conscious and aware of our food quality and origins - how it's caught, harvested, raised, etc, it becomes increasingly harder to opt for an easy or cheaper option and more necessary to make choices that support values of preservation and respect for our environment and I daresay, the animals and sentient beings that are the object of our consumption.

(Didn't mean to get on a soap box there...)

To really get the Loki story - and an understanding for "artisan" fish products and "process" that Loki proudly and diligently represents, read this:

http://www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/products/producers/knutson.html

The story is a great one, but here are the main points. The pictures below are an echo chamber and bass line to the words of Pete Knutson and his family business: it's just a better product!

Pete Knutson and Loki Salmon..."respect the water". They are almost alchemists in the process.

"You really have to respect the fish when they come out of the water, because they come out of the water perfectly."

"Over the years, he's seen giant fishing operations devastate salmon populations and cut deeply into a way of life. Profits have dwindled for many small fishermen as the large operations flood the market with inexpensive, often farmed fish. "There's some very cheap fish out there, and they make a superficially nice fish, but it's like a synthetic industrial product," treated with antibiotics and other questionable practices."


Long ago, Knutson spent seven years fishing on big boats, but didn't like it, because big business didn't bring the same concern for quality that a small fisherman, like an artisan, brings. Fish have to be treated properly and gently, he says.

"I've been working on the same stocks for 20 years, by the same beaches. I know my fish well," he says. "I can get the fish on ice much faster — in 45 minutes, while it takes many large-scale processors two or three days. Our fish typically are less than 48 hours old when they hit the dock in Ketchikan, and then it's just a few more hours by plane to Seattle."

Knutson considers it his duty to work hard for the environment. "I have extracted a lot of fish from the water, so I have an obligation to give something back to the fish," he says. "I've got this incredible responsibility to treat fish in a beautiful, sacred manner. And it makes me sick to see any kind of waste."

The proof is in the pictures below...

( Comparing Loki Salmon to Bumblbee Salmon - a huge industrial purveyor of salmon food products)




( Loki on the right - Bumblee Bee on the Left - Loki appears as whole pieces and much "cleaner"...)



Bumble Bee - chow, chopped, mangled....


And once again...Loki

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bannanas and Frappe' Drinks at Starbucks

I was at a Starbucks this morning. Lame service. Just not enthused. Kind of looked at my cup. Ok..I guess I'll fill it up. I was surrounded by bill boards and manusha for Vivanno, a fruit smoothie - a banana based smoothie.

Still no recycling. Zero wireless. Tired workers. This is either going to be an interesting change or a sad decline marred by stagnation.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Salad from Starbucks...just watch this.

video

This is a great video i.e entertaining and educational for the whole family....

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chipotle Gets It: Simplicity of Menu Design



Chipotle upped the ante once again with an even more streamlined menu than before.

Burrito's, Taco's, Bowls...boom, done!

Chicken, Steak, Carnitas, Barbacoa, Vegetarian. Done.

That's it.

We have a billion dollar company who's core product line is set on a 1 ft x 1 ft board.

Wow. This is cool. Jamba Juice...are you listening?

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Jamba Complicated Juice


Jamba Juice. A smoothie that's fresh and good for you: done! It's a great idea, a great product.

Entering a Jamba Juice you can't help but notice: friendly, clean and that Jamba Juice "smell" - fresh fruit, blenders, almost a rubber / sterile / fruity / airy smell to it. I'm sure it's trade marked. Truly exceptional.

What throws me off is the lack of simplicity, clarity and ease in their menu layout. One walks in wanting a "Jamba Juice" or a "smoothie", yet the menu options seem, although flavorful, daunting and almost confusing.

There are 11 Categories. Some of them are sub-categories, but I can't quite tell. There is "Breakfast All Day" which has 3 sub categories: "Yogurt and Fruit Blends”, “With Organic Granola" (3 additional options) and "Freshly Squeezed Juice and Juices". Wait, no, the "Juice and Juices" is it's own 'domain', with 4 options under its category.

The "ALL FRUIT" category: Ok...I feel like I'm taking the S.A.T. Let's see (by the this point I've stepped out of line because I'm...slowing it down, but then I notice those people meandering about, pretending like they know what they are doing, perusing the menu and decoding as I am.)

ALL FRUIT had 4 flavors. "JAMBA LIGHT", also it's own category, which has 3 flavors, but can I get those flavors as a "BLENDED WITH PURPOSE", which is the category next door? I don't know. Then they have "OUR CLASSICS". But I want a "Strawberry Nirvana", which is under the "JAMBA LIGHT" category, but I don't want the "Diet coke" version of a Jamba Juice. Ok, so there are the "Strawberries Wild" and "Strawberry Surf Rider" under "Our Classics".

I feel like going to sleep or leaving. I can't quite tell.

I asked the very nice and smiling employees: "Hi...I'd just like a Jamba Juice...like a "smoothie"...like that one! (pointing to one they are just putting a lid on). I didn't want to order wrong and get something that resembled a grocery store juice or a milk shake..I wanted their traditional jamba juice - the healthy person’s version of a 7-11 Slurpy!

Maybe if you had pictures next to the menu items? Maybe that would help?

Jamba Juice. Please. Take a page out of Google & Apple's playbook, or even the store next door, Chipotle. Simplify, streamline and make ease and menu clarity your main goal. Streamline the prices and I daresay...reduce them. If you can get to three prices, $3.50 being a 16 oz, your business would get really interesting. Right now my only option is to pay $5 for a smoothie, or $6 for a GIGANTIC burrito with organic ingredients next door at Chipotle. Chipotle wins, unlses you have a $3/$3.50 option with at least 12-14oz, than I'll pay just around $10 for dinner with both products.

The names are fun and cute, but they seem to be a bit over bearing. Too much!

Reduce clutter. Streamline blends and prices. Simplify.

Jamba Juice: A great idea, great stores, fun/nice employees and not a lot of lines. Maybe the menu is just...too much.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Starbucks Wireless Terrible, Embarrassing

Starbucks new "free wireless" does not work! It's not functional, it's hard to log into and only one Starbucks Partner I talked with out of 15 over four or five stores knew how to log in, and he was a techie. There is no literature in the store to tell you how to log in and beyond that, there shouldn't be! It should be an easy, seamless log in process.

The partner I spoke with had only one way around the problem: His solution: "I just give customers my id and password who want to log in because no one has been able to figure it out quite yet. You can't log in because you need to access your email to retrieve your account info and validation. Of course you can't do that unless your online. Beyond that, there are no instructions, just the log in screen." (Log in screen seen below)


The above photo is of attempt 1. Logging into the ATT network. What follows is the access point - where you put in your "id and password".

The problem here is that no where does it say "Hey guys, if your new to our new free internet wireless network, WELCOME! We're excited about our new service and the best way to use it is as follows" and continue on with an easy step 1, 2 and 3 process. This is by far more complicated than Tully's process, which simply says "CLICK HERE TO LOGIN". Done! That's it! Free, easy and strong internet wireless.

But Starbucks has an impenetrable wall to their free wireless connection. The only way to access their network is to purchase a Starbucks card, go home, log in, sign up for an account, save your account information, go back to Starbucks and log in with the information you have. Embarrassing!

Again, this is a symptom of a company that doesn't know how to be big. Just last week an Ex Starbucks Executive told me: "Their 10,000 stores..it's hard to execute on those details"

The Partner I talked to above mentioned, while shrugging his shoulders: "I think there just leaving it up to ATT to take care of it..I don't know..but that is what I heard".

Wow. This is too bad. A great opportunity sputtered away.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Starbucks going big. NYTimes.com

Starbucks ain't backing down. While McDonald's cruises around Seattle with side boards on busses reading "$4 is DUMB" - Starbucks is advertising on Maureen Dowd's New York Times articles.

Know your target!

"Yeah, we're Starbucks. Whatever. We are what we are."

And McDonald's...$4 is dumb, and a $1 cheeseburger is really smart. Thanks for trashing our environment and introducing billions of cows to hell on earth in the process. That makes me feel good all over.

Still: McDonald's is sooo good. Comfort food extraordinaire.



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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Taco Del Mar: Annoying Commercial & No You Tube


Local (Seattle, WA) mega franchise to be Taco Del Mar has a commercial on TV that comes on nightly, In fact, it comes on many times per evening - with a woman hopping across the screen saying "chicken - chicken - chicken - chicken!". It's really annoying! The whole commercial...annoying. And to annoy you further, they play it over and over again. It's annoying.


My question: why not formulate an aggressive, interesting and creative YouTube / internet video campaign?


Right now, Taco Del Mar on YouTube has many videos associated with their name, but a paultry amount of views. 12 here, 430 there, 18 here, etc. They should at least have the TV commercial on YouTube, allowing comments. Maybe others love it. But, they don't.


If Serious Pie's Tom Douglas can get 102,717 YouTube views (April 2, 2008), why can't Taco Del Mar get a similar number?


Come on Taco Del Mar corporate - whatchya thinkin'?

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Classic Brands / Packaging part 2 - HERSHEY



Hershey - another very classic 'brand' with 'classic' packaging!


The beauty behind the Hershey "brand": you wouldn't know that the Hershey Company "about" ($9 billion + in total net sales) with 75% of those sales originating from their chocolate category ($6.9 billion) spends about 15% - 17% of total sales on 'marketing', which is about a cool $billion!


Either way, another classic, simple brand that, much like the Crimson of Alabama, never changes their packaging and 'look' to accommodate changing styles - their style is in the not changing part, the consistency 'play' - a 'classic' move!


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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Best Selling Drink at Wholefoods


What costs $2.99 and sells better than most, if not all drinks at Whole Foods? You got it! Kombucha! Synergy! Kombucha Synergy - the amazingly 'buzz-powerful' concoction made of fermented tea (very little to no alcohol) which helps with a whole litany of physical and mental attributes: From memory to skin and digestion, this is apparently a wonder drink that actually works, er, sells.

Yesterday at Whole Foods, the gentleman ahead of me was purchasing about 12 of these drinks. At $3 a pop, you have to wonder why. In asking a few stockers at this Bellevue, WA location, they said Synergie's Kombucha sells about as well as any drink at Whole Foods, including the $0.49 Whole Foods label canned sodas, which are actually quite excellent.

Why do they sell so well? I don't know. But I can give you my opinion: it's actually good! You can actually feel the difference. Their packaging is amazing - REJUVENATE (who doesn't need to rejuvenate?) - restore, revitalize, replenish and regenerate. They use all "r's" which makes it so easy, like Apple and Google.

http://www.gtskombucha.com/
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kombucha-tea/AN01658

Beyond that it's unique. Try one. It's fizzy. It cuts through the fat. For someone who doesn't drink alcohol, this is a great after dinner drink, unlike any other drink you've had.


I've run into more bubbly, brimming enthusiasts of this drink who swear by it's health benefits. At this weekend's Vegefest in Seattle, WA, I talked with a very bubbly, smart and enthusiastic "jammer" of a woman named (I forget) who swore by the benefits of Kombucha - she's 72, acts 40 and, looks 65 and says that ever since she started drinking Kombucha daily, her memory test scores have increased. She's actually part of a controlled study on aging and dementia, and she credits her memory increase exclusively to Kombucha, as her mental prowess and 'engagement' remained fixed previous to drinking it daily. I wish I had a picture, or better yet, a video. Next time!

It takes a little getting used to in terms of taste. It's definitely bubbly. A bottle can last someone a few 'sittings', or if your like me, one. It's a great appertif - poured into a wine glass or cocktail glass, to sip on during parties, etc. I just happen to not drink, and this happens to be one of the only, if not the only drink I have found in this category of a nice drink to sip on during the 'party season'. "Talking Rain" & "Dry Soda" come a close second.

The thing Kombucha has got going for it, much like 'organic' and 'local', is the "STORY". It rejuvenates. It's organic. It's been around for hundreds of years. It restores and its health benefits have been studied. And with each sip, the fizz and bite remind you of this story. It's a great story, one I'm willing to participate in - a grand, perhaps factual placebo - and perhaps its all very scientific. I just know that it tastes good and like so many other things at Whole Foods - it just makes me feel good for being a part of it, ingesting it, eating it, breathing it. What's the alternative?

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dr. Pepper - Classic!

It just occurred to me the other day while looking at a can of Dr. Pepper: Classic! Dr. Pepper has a very classic brand, a very classic image, and if they play their cards right, can gain considerable market share right now with one of the classic icons in the industry. People today yearn for more of a "classic" nature - simplicity - a honed image consistent with...Frank Lloyd Wright, Alice Waters, post modern idealism and good ole' Highway 66 Texas Dr. Pepper!!! (no official data on this "yearning" quite yet, but I'd bet an official study would pull up something along the lines of "in my favor - my sentiments aren't too far off the mark")



For the ultra hip in a classic can: remove the "shadow" gimmick outlay of the can and get rid of the (23) flavors at the bottom. Although an integral piece of the brand, they should shoulder this off to the side of the can. Go with a clean, no gimmick can with that classic DR PEPPER logo right in the middle.
Another ideas: a cane sugar version of this heavy laden, 40 gram sugar bomb of a product. I don't drink these anywhere near a 12 hour window of having to sleep. There is something else going on in the ingredients that keeps me wired way past normal waking hours, and I can usually mainline coffee through the 9pm hours and be fine. Not so w/ Mr. Pepper in the house.
Also - ditch the Axl gimmick as well and get down to the BASICS. A classic taste in a classic can. Although, that is a kind of a cool idea!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rubinfeld is back

Arthur Rubinfeld is back at Starbucks after a few year soujourn that saw him take over the helm of chief development officer at Potbelly Sandwich Works. His new position: president of global development. That's a big deal! Arthur took Starbucks from about a 100 stores to thousands. He's been here before and he's a winner. It sounds like Starbucks is getting the old band back together.





I would have loved to have heard that conversation. "Hey Arthur...seriously...we're going into hyper drive here - Int'l is going to save the day - you're our 'main man' once again...come on back - won't you please?". I'm not sure Howard was begging, but either way, it's a great move. It just rings of another all-star, 'Howard is righting the ship quick-fast' kind of move.

Side note: Potbelly. What's the deal here? Here's one of the all-star "up and comers" that has significant Starbucks money and executives behind it - ala Arthur Rubinfeld. Does this most recent move mean Mr. Rubinfeld merely set the blue print in motion for Potbelly to grow accordingly, or is the "Potbelly thing" just not that exciting anymore? Perhaps too slow of growth for the likes of hyper growth Rubinfeld? Perhaps Potbelly - with operating margins north of 20% in some stores - and mirroring Starbucks like returns in terms of profit generation selling SANDWICHES - isn't able to grow that model across the country like you might be able to if you were, say, selling a drug like caffeine. Just a notion. I'm not sure.

I do know that in Potbelly's backyard of Ohio, USA, their growth was er...slower than anticipated or, more precisely, hoped for. Stores in the Columbus area were not growing at the spectacular rates seen in Chicago or D.C. And stores in Dayton weren't pulling their "Potbelly Star Power" either.

I sure wish Potbelly would grow some legs enough to move out west! Look for California stores in '08? Perhaps '09?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Howard Says: Close All Stores!!!!

"The notes and emails just keep coming" one barista told me just before flopping his head backward in a motif of exhaustion. He added: "Whatever Howard says....goes! Our wall says "Howard Says" and we have his emails posted there...."

Sudden impact!

$1 coffee, free wi-fi and now...the "emergency re-training" of baristas and the manner in which they make their drinks.

The hits keep coming. This is a man on a mission.

Howard says: close down every last store on Tuesday, February 26th starting at 5:30pm so every barista in each of the 7,100 Starbuck stores will learn how to improve the coffee. This is no doubt a fall out of years of declining quality in their core product: great, high quality coffee.

But how much can you change with an automated machine?

It turns out a few things are already taking place.

1. As of just today - February 13, 2008 - the partners are now pouring two shots instead of a single shot for each and every coffee made. 'Pulling' 2 shots improves the probability of a higher quality shot. It provides more balance and decreases the probability of a watered down shot of espresso.

2. As of today they are also administering shots of espresso into clear shot glasses. Before this change Starbucks baristas were merely administering them straigt into the paper cup. Pulling espresso into shot glasses allows the baristas to check for quality and consistency.

How do the partners feel about this "emergency" closing?

"It makes it seem like it was our fault when in fact the problems at Starbucks stem from decisions corporate made about the business in general over the last few yeasr...like growing too fast"

"This just makes it seem like its all our fault...."

Do others feel this way?

"Mostly...yes"

He added: "Other changes are coming...less knick knacks around the store....more focus on the coffee"

Amen.

Howard's next challenge: not only instituting long needed change, but maintaining and growing morale as Starbucks moves forward in the new era of Howard Says!

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We Now Have Wireless

Just one night before the big announcement, I created a post with the following opinion: Starbucks needs free wirless that works!

On Monday morning I woke up to the following story:

FREE WI-FI IN THE BREW FOR STARBUCKS

What a great deal. Both iniatives were addressed. This new service will, in large part, be free, and better still, this Wi-Fi will actually work! AT&T is most likely the stronger of carriers when compared to the T-Mobile Hot Spot Network.




Details:

* Unlimited Free Wi-Fi for AT&T subscribers and Starbucks partners.

* Card holders: All others only need to plop down $5 on a Starbucks Debit Card to have 2-free hours of wireless service per day.

* Beyond that, you'll need to pay $3.99 for two hours, unless of course you get the Starbucks ($5 minimum) debit card - a nice built in incentive to get the card.

Way to go Starbucks. You addressed all three major problems:

1. FREE v. PAID Wi-Fi
2. Wi-Fi that actually works
3. and kudos to addressing the stagnation problem mentioned in the below post.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Free Wireless, That Works Please...

Starbucks wireless does not work!





I’ve been trying to establish connectivity at Starbucks cafe's for the past couple of years now, and I’ve found the service to be intermittent, moody and consistently unreliable. This always crosses me as very "Un-Starbucks-like" and I've never quite understood why they don't take this iniative seriously. Considering other "free wireless" opportunities out there, including Whole Foods , Panera Bread, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Zoka Coffee, Tully’s, and Top Pot Donuts, it's apparently being established, at least in part, that retail wireless connectivity is both a workable opportunity and viable business option that would make sense on more than a few fronts for Starbucks.


Currently Starbucks offers a wireless “Hot Spot” option via an outside carrier – T-Mobile. The current package options at Starbucks, via T-Mobile, include a $10 day pass or a $39.99 monthly pass. If you're a T-Mobile cellular subscriber, the cost is $19.99 / month.


That’s pretty steep considering the available opportunities out there are $Free.00, but it's not entirely prohibitive, especially if you're an avid user i.e. someone who does business online a lot outside of the office or who travels a lot.


But the concurrent and more pressing issue is that the T-Mobile's “Hot Spot” option is mostly unreliable. I’ve talked with many, many customers across the country and the feedback is similar: T-Mobile hot-spots are spotty at best. You can connect but will often lose connection.




Because of this, Starbucks wards off the prospect of housing a drone colony of single purchase, low spending, single coffee cup drinking internet zombies that occupy single tables for hours on end. This is the worst case scenario associated with offering free-wireless at Starbucks, and apparently a consideration for top management to keep the status quo. This status quo of expensive wireless connectivity that doesn't even work is very inconvenient if you’re someone like me who loves Starbucks coffee and The Starbucks Experience. I am increasingly put off by the impractical nature of not being able to consummate a portion of my working day in one of their café’s because I know I can’t have a reliable connection to the internet. I either have to stay at home, stay at the office or go to another “3rd place” option.



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And I'm not the only one. It has been my experience that when Starbucks is less than full capacity, even a quarter capacity, other outlying retail operations that do have reliable free wireless options are humming along at near full capacity. And they don't have the drone colony fall out either. Sure, people stay there for hours at a time, but others stay for brief periods of time to check email or the daily news and then move on with their day. This is why, in part, Starbucks is ultimately missing the boat.

There are additional considerations for a reliable free wireless initiative at Starbucks:




1. It provides an additional entry point for new customers, a very relevant consideration in today’s increasingly competitive environment.

2. Right now, internet connectivity that is both expensive and does not work is a poor feature to their brand. The message currently being conveyed is that Starbucks is behind the times, slow and unwilling to adapt to the current environment of wireless technology. This insinuates that Starbucks isn’t really paying attention. This type of execution, or lack thereof, does not bode well for the brand that is Starbucks. With free wireless that works, I'd get a different message altogether, especially if they were to strike up some sort of savvy deal with a company and brand like Google.




3. Who’s inclined to be on computers surfing the internet using wireless devices? From afar I would assume its part of the overall demographic target of Starbucks – upwardly mobile, $5 coffee purchasing, sometimes buys a bag or two of Starbucks coffee roast kind of people.


4. Reliable free wireless increases the probability of generating a fresh repeat customer base i.e "an additional entry point".


5. Similar to point #2, free wireless connectivity at Starbucks offers a better brand proposition – and the opportunity to expose people to that proposition for longer periods of time.


6. A renewed increase in store over store sales and # of transactions.

Perhaps Starbucks fears café’ stagnation! This is a valid concern. They might fear an inability to turn tables sufficiently to generate and operate the business they envision. There are multiple ways to address this concern and the benefits and opportunities as mentioned above outweigh the risks. Starbucks can implement time signatures that kick people off after an hour or two. Starbucks can politely request, via digital sign through, that people limit their time to 60 or 120 minutes. There are various options available to increase flow through the cafe's.

Starbucks will figure it out. I just hope that whatever they do, they do something other than the same old thing - at least than I’ll know Starbucks is, once again, paying attention!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not Recession Proof After All - Back to the $1 Menu Drawing Board

Wall Street is not very forgiving! MCD's found this out on Monday. The conversation might have gone something like this: 'Oh, so you had ONE bad month...no biggie! It's ok...you've had, let's see...FIFTY-SIX CONSECUTIVE MONTHS of higher year-over-year U.S. comprable same store sales. We'll let this one slide."


NOT! Mr. Wall Street pushed McDonald's down to a 4 1/2 month low. Said another way, MCD's went from a nice $54.36 stock price on Friday down to a relatively hard hit $50.80 by close of bell Tuesday. That's not very nice...but it was the worst quarter in 5 years. A flat December is not pretty. And worse yet, it's not a good sign.





What did McD's have to say for itself? Excuses, excuses. Mr. Wall St. hates 'em. Especially if their not believable. MCD's did it's best though, blaming it on the weather - "It was COOOOOLLLLDDDD outside.." If that were to be believed, things would be OK in Oak Brook, but things are a little shakey because people believe otherwise: It's the economy, stupid!


Higher food costs, higher energy costs, an overall weak economy tied to the housing "downturn"...these are more likely culprits. And if McDonald's is feeling it, that is NOT a good sign. A canary in the coal mine!


What shocks me is that, considering McDonald's "not lucrative" price point, they are suffering at all. Do people REALLY not go spend...$5, $6, maybe $8 at McDonald's and apparently make their lunch and save...a $1? Apparently they do.


What will McDonald's do? What will be their "corporate mission" in such an environment?

They'll go even CHEAPER. "You want cheap...we've GOT cheap" is what their gearing up to do. How so? They'll look at their trusty balance sheets and recognize a couple things: 1. their value meals account for 14% of their TOTAL REVENUE. That's a lot of cash. They will start going to their strengths and cashing in on that little tid bit of information in the form of...more Happy Meals! And two...$1 Menu. Yup...it's what got 'em out of their first jam, and they'll bet it will carry them through this pickle, too.

Look for slight changes to their menu in '08 emphasizing their creme' de la' creme: cheap!!!!

Interesting Update:

Burger King is seeing NO slowdown in it's same store, Q1 sales...hmmm...it's actually experiencing an "uptick".

http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUKN3157440020080131?rpc=44

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Starbucks: $1 coffee? Who Knows?

I entered the Starbucks on 8th Ave. & 102nd the other day asking if they knew anything about a $1 cup of coffee, with free refills. I was greeted with "Where did you hear that?" The friendly barista / partner continued: "I was watching the local news today and I didn't see anything regarding a $1 cup of coffee!" I went on about Reuters, CNN, The Associated Press, blah blah blah - and it occured to me: the problems at Starbucks goes beyond store growth and economic downturns - there's a basic operations situation going on here, a major operations and communcations crack.




This was my main concern. Forget about what it does to the brand. This company is apparently so rife with bureaucracy that their own local, Seattle area store managers and "partners" are not even aware of major product initiatives & campaigns that have been highlighted in the national media for over 36 hours. They served me the advertised 8oz short cup of drip coffee for $1.66. I got one $0.55 refill.


On the same day - Thursday January 24th 2008 - I went to the Starbucks Music Store on Bellevue Way in downtown Bellevue. Again, confusion! A partner explained to me that it was an initiative that Starbucks was experimenting with in a "...few counties in Maine.." What? Maine? That's not what I was reading, but perhaps the national press got it wrong. They decided to honor it anyway, which was obviously a little uncomfortable.



It's a fascinating conversation: what will the reverberations of this "experiment" be? Did it work? Will they move forward with a reduced cup of "joe" at Starbucks to compete with McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts? How will this effect the sterling brand that is Starbucks? Will this dilute the brand or does this usher in long needed change and adaption to a growing market place for high quality coffee? Does it really create "segmentation" and beneficial and new "entry points"? Those are great conversations, of which I have clear and strong opinions on (*Yes, they need to institute free refills and no longer implement price increases for "drip" coffee in order to subsidize raising dairy costs - AND they need FREE WI-FI) but that's for another post.


My point here: There is a significant problem in Seattle w/ Starbucks that goes beyond national product experiments, brand prestige and positioning, competition with McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and strong 'independents', falling stock prices, the economy, store growth, etc. etc. These are all interesting and serious topics to be addressed, but Starbucks needs to get back to 'brass tacks' and concentrate on the basics like corporate to store communication, communication amongst Regional Managers, District Managers and Store Managers and overall execution on operations. Without these basic fundamentals in place, and it's obvious that this has been in decline for awhile, all those other high minded initiatives won't be as important. It's a coffee shop. They need to execute on the fundamentals first. And because of all these other moving parts and increased competition, which shows no signs of subsiding, the time to act is now!

Warch for Howard - he will be making some major improvements in short order!

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