Bigger Isn’t Better

Here’s the thing: I don’t complain about specifics that often here, so…indulge me for the end-of-week post, okay? Thanks.

I tend to be resistant to big businesses. I would much rather give my money to a local business, because I think that does more good for everyone. Often, I’m willing to sacrifice some convenience for that. For example, as super-convenient as it is to just purchase my comic books digitally, I still had a local shop that held physical copies of my issues for me, because I wanted to spend my money locally for them. I’m still looking for a shop since we’ve moved, but, in general, you get the idea.

Most often, I strike a balance between big and small businesses. My coffee addiction…er, habit…is a great example. I like to find local coffee shops in which to relax (I just discovered one this evening, in fact, much to my delight). For purchasing coffee at home, though, I often just go to a nearby Starbucks. There are several reasons for this: I know that they will always be open late (I never seem to realize I’m out of coffee until 8 p.m. or so), I just hold my phone up to their scanner to pay, and I get a free drink whenever I buy a pound of coffee because I’m a gold card holder.

Well, about that…

Before our move, my system went something like this: load the Starbucks card for the approximate amount of a pound of coffee, get my free drink, have some balance left over, drop by Starbucks later to treat myself with whatever that balance happened to be. I would also buy coffee from a local roaster, but I was rewarded for being a regular at Starbucks. Since moving to New England, I’ve noticed that I don’t have anything left on the card after the same purchases. At first blush, I just attributed this to the fact that the cost of living is higher in New England than in Virginia. Last week, though, I held my phone to the scanner, and was advised that I still owed a few cents. The barista handed me the receipt, and I observed that I had been charged for both the pound of coffee and the drink. I brought this to their attention, indicating that the drink should have been free because I have a gold card. I was advised that the reward program had changed, and that drinks were no longer free with coffee purchases. The trade-off (and this doesn’t compensate at all in my mind) is that you earn rewards more quickly.

So, for the past three months, I’ve been purchasing drinks that I thought I was getting for free without realizing that I was doing so.

The thing about a reward program is that it should keep me loyal to your store by giving me nifty and special advantages. You don’t just get a gold card with Starbucks, after all…you have to work up to it, and then maintain a certain level of purchases to keep it. The free drink with a coffee purchase was a huge perk for me, probably the biggest. Now, it’s suddenly removed.

Not coincidentally, it appears Starbucks is doing extremely well, of late.

There’s such a thing as getting too big. After reaching a certain point, many (if not most) companies start being confident enough in their financial success that they stop caring about their customers. Now, I know that I don’t have a head for business, but my perspective is that the point of business is to take care of the people who come to you, treat them with respect, and earn enough to make ends meet and perhaps a bit of a profit for doing so. When you become absorbed in the profits, you stop caring about the people, and your priorities are hopelessly inverted at that point.

This seems to happen to nearly all big businesses.

Fortunately, I’ve found a local shop that also roasts extremely high quality coffee. And, since Starbucks no longer rewards me for my business in a substantive way, I’ll be giving that local shop most, if not all, of my business now. I suppose Starbucks will still be handy in airports and on road trips, but they are now my second or third choice.

Because they got too big.

Didn’t the Doctor warn us about this?

Have a good weekend.


  1. Wow, that kind of angers me about Starbucks. All it does is scream GREEDY HUGE FRANCHISE!!! And I hate that. But I’ve also run into some bad karma with small businesses too. I think, in the end, it’s a case-by-case basis. There are certain stores I refuse to shop at these days because of how they run things. Starbucks seems like it should be one of them now, but I don’t drink coffee, so I’ve never really gone there anyway. Customer should always, always be first outside of making enough profit to keep the business running.

  2. Agreed, Michelle. I think that the key to making enough profit to keep the business running is to go out of the way for the customers. I’ll be curious to see if Starbucks continues this downward trend, and how much, if any, it impact their profits.

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