Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brewing a Dream

There is this coffee shop near my apartment that, effective July 1, will offer free Wi-Fi to its faithful customers. I am ecstatic, and if you could see me now you would see a Sarah Palin smile waiting to sip a cup of Joe while wassailing on the World Wide Web at this local coffee shop.

I would give the name of the java joint I'm referring to, but it is probably irrelevant, especially if you do not live in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. But, as a budding journalism student, I feel inclined to write a story that includes detail. Plus, I might as well give you the name of the place, in case you ever, for some strange reason, find yourself in my neighborhood. The coffee shop is named "Starbucks," after a Mr. Starbuck, from what I understand.

Starbucks is a few blocks north of where I live and thus just outside Edgewater’s boundaries. In fact, it is located in the diverse and lively Rogers Park neighborhood, or “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood,” as I call it when I am feeling especially pun-happy. I spent three years embedded in Rogers Park as a student of Loyola University Chicago, as well as a frequent customer at Starbucks. The staff---collectively known as baristas---is generally friendly enough, serving me a house blend called “Pike Place Roast.” Digression---I sometimes mix up the name of the roast, calling it “Pike’s Peak Roast,” for some strange reason pluralizing Pike---as if it is the name of some guy---and then substituting “Peak” for “Place” because the phrase “Pike’s Peak” comes to mind before “Pike Place.” End of stream of conscious digression. This is, of course, neither here nor there for you if you have never visited Rogers Park and the coffee shop I am talking about, Starbucks.

On the eve of Starbuck’s Wi-Fi unveiling, I plotted an awesome article where I plant myself firmly in Starbucks the morning of July 1 and partake in the party before biking north to Northwestern for my 9 a.m. journalism class. But nothing happens in this future story---I just sit and surf the web and invest in Starbuck’s future, sip by sip. I do hope the owners of Starbucks considers opening other locations so that people reading this who don’t live near Rogers Park can still enjoy the luxury of free Wi-Fi and a latte from Starbucks. It is a gem of an offer from a coffee shop that provides pleasant coffee 85% of the time, a solid atmosphere, and cards that offer customers a free music download on iTunes (though I have yet to find out how to actually access a Starbucks free music download---if only Starbucks was a chain coffee shop with more corporate organization and advertising I could maybe take advantage of its promotions. Oh well---there is always time for Starbucks to establish itself as a corporation).

If Starbucks does ever decide to go big, I think it should really go for it. This coffee shop thing might just make it here in the states. I suggest Mr. Starbuck should not just limit himself to opening up a few more branches on the north side of Chicago---no, no, no. Starbucks has more stars in its future than that. What I envision is a really powerful coffee shop. With the right business model, Starbucks could operate a dozen locations throughout Chicago by the end of next year. By 2015, if Starbucks plays its cards right, I think it could spread its brew throughout the Midwest. Don’t laugh---but by 2020, I think Starbucks could even open up an International storefront. I am not suggesting that Starbucks be so bold as to express its espresso in Italy or France or Brazil---it would be way too difficult for the Rogers Park coffee shop to compete in countries where coffee is a religion.

Starbucks should probably start small and branch out to Toronto or another Canadian city. I would say Starbucks could try its luck in Vancouver (British Columbia is beautiful and trendy I hear), but that would require it to have an established base in the Northwest already. Seattle has enough coffee shops---for instance, think of how popular Seattle’s Best Coffee is (the blend served in Subways during the breakfast sandwich time of the day). With a name that includes “Best,” it would be damn near impossible for Starbucks to compete. On name alone, I would certainly choose Seattle’s Best Coffee over Starbucks. Sometimes I even think I should say something to the owner of Starbucks and tell him the name of his coffee shop is not catchy enough to mocha money (make money). But I don’t want to make the guy feel bad---I am sure he is way too busy trying to run a little business to listen to the two cents of a college student who barely tips the baristas two cents after they optimistically pour him a Pike’s Peak…I mean "Pike Place Roast." (Mr. Starbuck found a way to trademark his brew, which is a brilliant, forward-thinking move for an entrepreneur to make).

On second thought, you can keep the name of your store as is, Mr. Starbuck. You actually have a pretty original last name. Maybe one day your coffee shop will be a star that indeed turns a profit, making you a buck or two.

My final word of advice for Starbucks is to look at every small growth as a victory for the company. Do not dream too vast a dream, thinking you can open up 5,886 stores worldwide anytime in the near future. I like to dream to, but I understand it is generally slow growth that marks real progress. Also, try to stay clear of illusions of Wall Street, and a company volume of 17 million (that would be staggering for a coffee shop, wouldn't it?). Instead, set your sites on a realistic goal. Go for the gold you can get---brew ten lattes an hour and make enough money to hire an extra barista. I know Mr. Starbucks, from the little I do know about you, you are a philanthropist at heart. That's noble, but before you give an extensive portion of your earnings to charities or developing countries, or establish some kind of Starbucks Foundation (a theoretical non-profit organization you want to establish), first aim to make enough money per month to pay rent to your grouchy Rogers Park landlord.

I can’t wait until Starbucks finally has enough capital to open up more locations. It would be grande to return to my hometown of Milwaukee and enjoy a cup of Starbucks while surfing the web for free. What’s next? After a cup of coffee and a pleasant morning buzz, anything seems possible.

Alas, here is the real deal on Starbucks plan to offer free Wi-Fi and other features to stoke up customers (the joke is officially over):


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