Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The night Starbucks went cold

At 5:31, a manager escorted two customers to the door, apparently explaining why the Starbucks would be closing. As she was saying good-bye, two more people tried to squeeze past her into the cafĂ© for their after-work caffeine fix. They, too, apparently hadn’t heard that all 7,100 Starbucks in the United States would be closing yesterday evening for what the media alternated between calling a massive teach-in and a chainwide coffee break.

But before the unit on 57th St. in New York could move to a refresher on how to make a killer cup of coffee, the staff had to fend off customers first. The manager had locked the door and taped a cardboard sign to the window, explaining that the store was closed. But every time employees would open the door to lug a back of trash to the curb, a few more patrons would blithely push through the door, oblivious to the sign and the historic shutdown of the whole chain. Each time they’d be shepherded out by the manager, who seemed as cheerful as a 7-year-old at her birthday party.

Of course, those patrons could have satisfied their caffeine craving for a mere 99 cents by trekking just a few blocks. In an absolutely brilliant stroke of guerilla marketing, Dunkin’ Donuts cut the price of its espresso-based drinks for the afternoon and night to under a buck. Sure, the doughnut specialist might’ve snagged a few Starbucks aficionados who presumably could switch allegiance. But the real benefit was the publicity. Starbucks’ three-hour closure drew a ton of coverage in every sort of media imaginable. By tying into that event in a sly way, Dunkin’ made sure that its name was in the second paragraph, if not higher. Starbucks took the sales hit and snagged its share of hoopla. But Dunkin’ was right there with it.

One more accolade to bestow on the matter: The Chicagoist website, for coming up with the headline, All Starbucks Closing Tonight for 3 Hours, Apocalypse Imminent.


  1. I tried to get a coffee at 8:45. My Tuesday night ritual before I let me other manager go home for the night. I had to settle for gas station mud.

  2. Interesting take on the Starbucks situation. But as a former partner, the company has lost its focus. They are doing away with the hot sandwiches which they could never really do very well. There are many stores in the So Cal region that are closing because they were ill-advised real estate choices and the company really did not have the visionary focus under Jim Donald. Many that I still keep in touch with at the big green monster feel that the current housekeeping under Schultz's second tour of duty was necessary.

    So much for being fat, dumb and happy.