Starbucks vs The Independent Coffee Shop

Americans really love their coffee but I was surprised to learn that coffee consumption is about half of what it was 50 years ago.  But the visibility of coffee shops seem at such an all time high that it has become part of pop culture to joke that Starbucks is opening everywhere from taking over kids closets to opening in someone’s kitchen.

So who is better?  Obviously Pouregon is here to promote the locally owned shops so I lean that way.   I asked someone I know who referenced Starbucks if he tries any local places.  He mentioned that he loves Starbucks, he was previously a manager, and that other shops weren’t as good and the service stinks.  He elaborated that you get snobby or complacent service from most other places, and then still wait forever.  To be honest though I don’t find Starbucks to be blazing fast like I hear from some but perception is everything.

He has a point.  I have been around small businesses all of my life and it is tough to be a good manager. Between hiring, training, and motivating their are a lot of trap doors to fall through for a business owner who has more passion than experience.  And the owner can’t do it all.  Much like artists often fail to promote or run their passion as a profitable business, the independent shop owner often fails too as statistics show. Franchises have a much better success rate because the support and structure is there.

While writing up the posts for Pouregon I often look at the reviews and the most consistent thing I find is a complaint about service. While you may want to spend 10 minutes with each person to make them your close friend, there are quite a few people who just want the coffee too.  It’s hard to balance but just look at the competition.

What’s interesting, according to an article that is behind the pay wall of the Wall Street Journal, is that quite often when Starbucks moves in to an area some local shops actually increase their business when they thought they would perish. People are awakened to the idea of a coffee shop and then they explore.  There was one coffee shop that would move to wherever a new Starbucks opened in his area because he was always successful.  Think about the car dealers you see lined up on a street.  They feed off each other.

The battle may come down to customer service and location.  Some of the independent shops have out of the way locations because it’s what they can afford like many small businesses.  Obviously location and ease of access can help and I already talked about customer service.

As much as I would like this post to declare a winner it’s really about the battle for the mind and attention of the coffee drinker. I have shown the spotlight on some great and popular coffee shops; Insomnia Coffee Company had one of their clients get married there. The independent coffee shop has an uphill battle to win the mind of someone who is a Starbucks fan but they have too take advantage every time a new coffee drinker walks in the door to wow them with good and quick service.

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  • Have to agree with some people's comments about smaller coffee shops either having slow service or snooty attitudes. But, if I find a small coffee shop with a good product and nice people, I totally favor it over a Starbucks or Peets or other chains.

    I only ever go to Starbucks if I don't know of a better place to go. That's why Starbucks works, they are easy to find and you know what to expect.

  • @JakePlanton says:

    Good post Mike. Here is a great WIllamette Week article on the topic. Starbucks=business for small coffee shops.
    My recent post New Yelp! Biz page!

  • @joelgibby says:

    I am always on the lookout for good coffee spots. There are two that I frequent when in Portland and Camas – Southeast Grind on SE 12th and Powell is a 24-hour Stumptown-serving, vegan food-making, Voodoo Doughnut-slinging, good service-having mecca for tech geeks and anyone looking for a solid cup of coffee in a great atmosphere. Free wifi, free wired ethernet and a fireplace make it inviting yet easy to stay focused on work if that's what you're there for. If you stop in, make sure you tell them you heard about their place on Pouregon.

    Piccolo Paradiso in Camas, WA is steeped in strong Italian flavor and feel. Artisan espresso, coffee, cookies, gelato and hot panini sandwiches round out the comestibles, while the cozy atmosphere invites conversation amongst beautiful artwork. Located on NE Birch Street just around the corner from Twilight Pizza Bistro. Say hi to Pam (the owner) and tell her you heard about the spot on Pouregon!
    My recent post Quit playing in the kiddie pool

  • […] before on Pouregon was how independent coffee shops may standout on taste but they often take a hit on service.  Kacey loves coffee and knew what it was like to get slow service or to be ignored.  Reading the […]

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