Has Howard Schultz Really Thought This Through?

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 23, 2016, file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz walks in front of a photo of Starbucks baristas, at the coffee company's annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Starbucks announced ... FILE - In this Wednesday, March 23, 2016, file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz walks in front of a photo of Starbucks baristas, at the coffee company's annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Starbucks announced Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, that Schultz is stepping down from the coffee chain that he joined more than 30 years ago, and that Kevin Johnson will become chief executive as of April 3, 2017. Schultz will become executive chairman on that date to focus on innovation and social impact activities, among other things. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) MORE LESS
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Howard Schultz is no longer CEO of Starbucks. But as de facto founder (he took it over as a small coffee roaster and developed it into what we know as Starbucks) I imagine he is still a major shareholder. Really he and Starbucks are inseparable. But I don’t think he’s really considered how vulnerable the company is to a boycott or simply enduring brand damage tied to this effort.

Let’s start with a simple observation.

There’s almost always another place to get a coffee. As we’ve discussed, Amazon has all sorts of negative societal and economic impacts: low wage employer; they pay basically no corporate taxes because they carefully calibrate growth to hover near break even business; they are a massive monopoly. The list goes on and on. But the reality is that it’s by far the easiest way for me to order all sorts of things. I’m a big reader of eBooks. There are a lot of good shows on Amazon Prime. Whatever the rights and wrongs of it, saying no to Amazon ain’t easy precisely because of their ubiquity and market power. Starbucks isn’t like that. Certainly in most big cities there’s always another place to get a cup of coffee and often it’s a better one. It’s a voluntary decision; it’s an affinity attachment; and you’ve got lots of options.

Second, I’ve always thought that the latte liberal cliche is greatly overdone. I’ve seen all the wingnuts chugging down designer coffees at DC Starbuckses. But basically it’s an urban brand. I imagine that the core Starbucks demo doesn’t really line up with the core Trump demo. Myself, considering what we’ve seen over the last 72 hours, I’d be hard pressed to go into a Starbucks. I just think he’s too big of a jerk, courting too much potential damage for the country for reasons that don’t seem to go beyond ego. But I’m hyper-political. I don’t expect most people to be thinking in those terms. Nor is there really any reason they should. But if he goes through with his plan to run and sticks with it through the election I think he will get a lot more attention, as a spoiler who will get us four more years of Trump.

If you are upset with the Koch Brothers, there’s not a lot you can do unless you buy a lot of industrial oil extraction machinery (yes, I know they own some other companies.) But a whole lot of us buy coffee and we pretty much all have other options.

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