I spent some time tonight thinking about whether I'd been too harsh on Alterra in my last post. I've largely come to the conclusion that I wasn't. The reflection caused me to think more deeply about the coffee business.
Sometimes I wonder if coffee isn't a business where the nature of the product informs the overall business least. This is most particularly true of Starbucks. On a large scale, Starbucks is attempting to be the Microsoft or Big Blue of coffee, with radical Blond coffee rollouts comparable to the Windows 95 rollout. Rollouts, as a concept, are a bit absurd in the coffee business--but the lifeblood of publicly traded corporations, who need a constant stream of headlines and press releases to keep shareholders happy.
On a more recurrent level, premature seasonal rollouts in the coffee business are an annoyance to many. They seem alien to the nature of the product. More tangible consumer goods, like clothing or school supplies, are seasonal and sold in advance of the season because shrewd consumers benefit from buying early. The price may be more advantageous, or the consumer may simply value the reduced stress that comes from being prepared. On the contrary, the food and drink that is passed over the counter is only relevant in the time frame in which it's consumed.
We're just coming out of a July that made it seem as if the sun would swallow up the earth at any moment, and yet fall drinks such as Pumpkin Spice Lattes are being rolled out. After a brief letup, warm temperatures are back, and I can report that Brady Street is more crowded than I've ever seen it tonight. As someone who enjoys an above-average level of outdoor activity, I can state with confidence that noticeable autumn temperatures usually don't hit Wisconsin until October.
Frankly, the thought of a Pumpkin Spice latte seems unappetizing in this warm weather. It's not a flavor that has appeal until it is cold enough outside to see one's breath. Holiday rollouts in mid-October or even earlier seem even more absurd. Wisconsin is resplendent in the fall, and what truly sickens me is the thought of missing out on that in favor of shopping at some big box store (well, I guess not so much anymore) or mall.
Honestly, I think the only "rollout" that should matter in coffee--or any business for that matter--is the one that happens when the customer enters your space, whether that be physical or virtual. I would think that particularly in the coffee business, you want to be saying "no" to the customer as rarely as possible. It's not a penny profit business like a grocery store, and even grocery stores ease the blow with rain checks. Don't be out of things--if the customer has a want that you've put in his or her mind, either fill it or jump through hoops to try to. If you've run out of a product, remove the advertising materials so that the customer doesn't have it in mind. Run another featured coffee instead and put that in the customer's mind.
So that's why my earlier post wasn't too harsh. They had bags of Costa Rica Herbazu Honey sitting on the counter, but no one thought to fill the hopper with one of them. Similarly, a Starbucks in Scottsdale, Arizona apparently wouldn't make me a pourover of Tribute Blend, though plenty of beans (and, presumably, hot water) were in the store. If they're aware of this evident conflict but refuse to solve it, that seems rather withholding. It's never acceptable to direct four-letter words at people, and I didn't mean it that way in my earlier post. Rather, it was directed at such behavior in the "service" industry.