Happy Earth Day!

globeDid you know there are actually two Earth Days? I didn’t (or else I forgot) but as usual, Wikipedia has the answers. Evidently the March equinox (around March 20th) is also called Earth Day, though I think today is the more popular and commonly celebrated day.

Earth Day is a name used for two different observances, both held annually during spring in the northern hemisphere, and autumn in the southern hemisphere. These are intended to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. The United Nations celebrates Earth Day, which was founded by John McConnell in 1969, each year on the March equinox, while a global observance originated by Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, and since January 1970 also called Earth Day, is celebrated in many countries each year on April 22, including the U.S.

Like most of these events lately, companies are not shy to take advantage of them for marketing purposes. Starbucks has historically celebrated Earth Day by offering free drip coffee to customers with personal cups, but not this year:

On April 22, Earth Day, Starbucks will donate five cents to Conservation International (CI) for every purchase made that day with a Starbucks Card at any Starbucks store in the U.S. and Canada.

Why couldn’t they just abolish splash sticks, balance print-outs for Starbucks card holders, and other environment unfriendly practices? I guess that would be too easy.

The official site of the March Earth Day is here, and Canada’s Earth Day site is here.

And hey, what better way to celebrate than by venturing out into our fourth day of blizzard-like conditions!

Does Starbucks really offer 87,000 drink combinations?

starbucks I’ve written in the past about Starbucks and how it claims to offer 87,000 different drink combinations. I haven’t ever questioned that number though, and in retrospect I really should have. Fortunately, the Wall Street Journal’s Numbers Guy did question it:

Over the following weeks, I placed several phone calls and sent several emails, but didn’t get an explanation for the calculation. Nor could the company tell me who did the math. “It’s something a statistician put together, based on our menu board,” Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe told me. “If you take all of our core beverages, multiply them by the modifiers and the customization options, you get more than 87,000 combinations.” She said a spreadsheet contained the relevant calculation, but added, “it’s not something we’ve ever circulated.”

Turns out he never did get a straight answer. The math isn’t simple. You’d have to know all of the various syrups, sizes, milk options, cream options, etc. You’d have to know all of the drinks and bean types, and you’d have to keep up with menu changes. I’m not surprised that no one seems to know the true answer. It would be nice if Starbucks could justify their marketing somehow, though.

I guess at the end of the day it doesn’t matter much. Even if it’s closer to 8700 than 87,000 the simple fact remains, there’s no shortage of choice at Starbucks.

Read: The Numbers Guy

Starbucks: All Your Clover Are Belong To Us

starbucks Their stock has been slumping for over a year now, and Howard Schultz has had enough. He recently took back the CEO position at Starbucks, and pledged to make changes that would bring about the return of the Starbucks experience. Yesterday at the company’s annual shareholders meeting, he delivered:

“Eleven weeks ago, I made a personal commitment to every one of our customers and partners (employees) to reaffirm our place as the world’s coffee authority,” said Schultz. “By embracing our heritage, returning to our core — all things coffee — and our relentless commitment to innovation, we will reignite the emotional connection we have with our customers and transform the Starbucks Experience.”

Here’s what they announced:

  • Starbucks has purchased The Coffee Equipment Company, who makes the Clover machine. Some stores in Seattle and Boston already use the Clover. This acquisition means the Clover is coming to a coffee shop near you!
  • A new “everyday” blend of drip coffee called Pike Place Roast. Currently, the drip coffee available rotates.
  • Another new espresso machine, called the Mastrena. The existing Verisimo machines are also getting upgraded in the U.S. and Canada.
  • An online community: mystarbucksidea.com.
  • Rewards for Starbucks Card holders! Starting in April, card holders in the U.S. and Canada will receive complimentary customization on syrups and milk, free refills on brewed coffee during the same visit, a complimentary Tall beverage when you buy a pound of coffee, and two hours per day of free Wi-Fi.

Of course, the free Wi-Fi initiative was actually announced last month. I checked out the new community, and it seems like an attempt to offer a company-sanctioned outlet for discussion that already happens at places like the Starbucks Gossip blog. The rewards program is somewhat disappointing, but it’s only the first phase apparently.

I am looking forward to the new drip blend, and the Clover! Here’s what the co-founder of Coffee Equipment Co. had to say:

Having his company bought by Starbucks Corp. wasn’t his initial plan, but it became “a dream come true” for Zander Nosler, who co-founded Ballard’s The Coffee Equipment Co. in May 2004.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Nosler, 36. “There will be amazing opportunities, amazing resources to turn up the heat on making some new products and doing R&D.”

Apparently the acquisition announcement pleased shareholders more than anything else. I can’t say I’m surprised! I wonder how all the little independent coffee shops that used the Clover as a point of differentiation are taking the news.

Time will tell if these announcements actually do “transform the Starbucks Experience,” but I think the Clover purchase was really smart regardless.

Read: Yahoo! Finance, Seattle Times

PS. If the title of this post doesn’t make sense to you, read this article at Wikipedia.

Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi at most U.S. locations

starbucks It’s announcements like this one that make me wish I lived south of the border. Beginning this spring, Starbucks and AT&T will offer free and paid wireless access at “many” locations around the United States:

Starbucks said Monday it will give customers that use its Starbucks purchase card two hours of free wireless access per day. After that, it will cost $3.99 for a two-hour session. Monthly memberships will cost $19.99 and include access to any of AT&T’s 70,000 hot spots worldwide.

How freaking sweet is that?! Two free hours if you use a Starbucks card. Starbucks Gossip confirmed with PR that they mean the gift card kind, not the Duetto, which is even better! And if you work at Starbucks, you get unlimited free access:

As an added benefit for the more than 100,000 Starbucks partners in the U.S., all Starbucks partners will receive free AT&T Wi-Fi accounts allowing them to use the network in Starbucks company-operated locations offering Wi-Fi access.

Today’s news ends a six-year deal that Starbucks had with AT&T rival T-Mobile. There’s more on the story at Techmeme.

Please Starbucks, bring this to Canada! I would absolutely love to drop in to Starbucks, turn on my iPod touch, and check out the headlines (or Twitter/Facebook mobile heh).

Please? Pretty please?

Read: The Associated Press


Post Image I love McDonald’s. Have ever since I was a kid. If I have to choose between McDonald’s and another fast food joint, I’ll choose McDonald’s almost every time. I don’t go there because the food is healthy, and I don’t go there because the environment is relaxing and enjoyable. I go there because the food is inexpensive, convenient, and consistent. I love the double cheeseburger, and it never lets me down. Oh and the fries, you simply can’t go wrong with McDonald’s fries!

I also love Starbucks. Not since I was a kid mind you, but I can still remember the first time my parents took me there. I had a Caramel Macchiato, and fell in love with both the drink and the place. These days I have a grande drip coffee every morning, though I still enjoy the Macchiato and other “signature” beverages from time to time (probably more often than I should). Like McDonald’s, Starbucks is convenient and consistent, but it also offers a wonderful experience.

McDonald’s is the largest restaurant chain in the world, with well over 30,000 locations scattered across the globe. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Freidman noted that “no two countries that both had a McDonald’s had fought a war against each other, since each got its McDonald’s.” (there are two exceptions to this). To me this says two things. First, the rise of McDonald’s is fairly recent. Second, it’s everywhere, and it seems impossible for another chain to become as pervasive.

Starbucks likes to tackle problems that seem impossible, such as selling $4 lattes and running two successful stores across the street from one another. As Taylor Clark notes in his book Starbucked, the only company that has a realistic shot at surpassing the presence of McDonald’s is Starbucks. Currently there are over 15,000 locations worldwide, more than half of which are owned entirely by the company (McDonald’s outlets on the other hand are franchised). That’s not bad considering that McDonald’s had a 30-year head start!

Why am I writing about these two companies? Well each is fascinating on its own, but put them together in a global battle for food and beverage supremacy, and you’ve got something that’s especially interesting! And that is what appears to be happening:

McDonald’s Corp’s plan to expand the beverage lineup at its U.S. restaurants with cappuccinos, lattes and other drinks is expected to add $1 billion to annual sales…

McDonald’s has even added a “barista” position in its restaurants and dedicated a section of counter space to the automated espresso machines so customers can see the drinks being made, spokeswoman Danya Proud said.

It was last year that Starbucks decided they would start offering food in addition to coffee. None of the outlets I regularly visit offer breakfast, despite the company making a big push back in July (perhaps that was mostly in the US).

So are the two on a collision course? I don’t think so. I pretty much agree with this Time piece. Even though the clientele at Starbucks is diversifying, it’s hard to envision one company stealing customers from the other, at least not in great numbers. Besides, you’d think the two would cancel out – McDonald’s gains a few new coffee customers, Starbucks gains a few new food customers. Check out this Economist article for more.

For me at least, there is very little overlap between the two (as I tried to point out in the first two paragraphs above). I don’t visit McDonald’s at the expense of Starbucks, nor do I visit Starbucks at the expense of McDonald’s. And even if their respective menus started looking more alike, I can’t imagine that it would change anything for me.

That said, it’s an interesting battle that will be fun to watch over the next few years!

I wish they all could be Apple Stores

Inside the Apple StoreOne of the first places I went in New York after checking into the hotel was the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. I had been looking forward to it for a very long time, and as I wrote that night, I was not disappointed. Sharon and I spent some time wandering around before I bought my iPod touch. The whole experience was really good, save for the cashier not knowing what to do with my Canadian debit card.

I’m not the only one who has been impressed with Apple’s retail experience this year.

Apple now derives 20 percent of its revenue from its physical stores. And the number is growing. In the fourth quarter in 2007, which ended Sept. 30, Apple reported that the retail stores accounted for $1.25 billion of Apple’s $6.2 billion in revenues, a 42 percent increase over the fourth quarter in 2006.

Not only has the company made many of its stores feel like gathering places, but the bright lights and equally bright acoustics create a buzz that makes customers feel more like they are at an event than a retail store.

In a way, I think Apple is "Starbucking" the technology retail experience. More than coffee, Starbucks offers a place to be. By allowing customers to sit and play with iPods and MacBooks, Apple is doing the same thing – selling community. The key phrase from above is "feel like gathering places".

Trust me, once you’ve been to an Apple store you’ll start wishing every retail experience could be so good.

It’s just too bad there aren’t more of them.

Read: NYTimes.com

Celebrate Earth Day at Starbucks

Post ImageEarth Day is coming up this weekend, and that means it’s about time for companies to capitalize on the environment being so prevalent in our social conscience. Sharon told me about this last week (not sure how she knew), but I just found the press release from Starbucks:

On Sunday, April 22, customers who bring in their own reusable tumbler will receive a complimentary cup of Café Estima Fair Trade coffee.

And as always, if you bring a reusable mug in to get your coffee, you’ll save ten cents. The press release highlights other “green” efforts from Starbucks, including their Post-Consumer Fibre Cup, Ethos Water, Grounds for Your Garden program, and more.

I think they should have launched new sleeves with Earth trivia on them! You know, like the “Akeelah and the Bee” sleeves they came out with last April. Speaking of trivia, my Dad is posting Earth trivia on Tuesdays, so feel free to go show him how smart you are.

Here’s a random thought for the day: maybe we should rename “Earth Day” to “Gore Day”! After all, when you think Al Gore doesn’t the word environment come to mind? Maybe it’s just me.

Read: Newswire.ca

Starbucks in Edmonton – My Maps

Post ImageLast last night Google launched a new mapping feature called My Maps. Basically it makes it dead simple for anyone to create a “mashup” using Google Maps. Here’s what product manager Jess Lee had to say about it:

You can add placemarks, draw lines and shapes, and embed text, photos and videos — all using a simple drag and drop interface. Your map automatically gets a public URL that you can share with your friends and family, or you can also publish your map for inclusion in Google Maps search results.

I figured I’d take it for a spin, so I created a map of all the Starbucks locations in the Edmonton area:

I chose not to add licensed stores, such as the ones you find in Safeway. My map contains 30 locations, including 1 in Spruce Grove, 3 in St. Albert, and 2 in Sherwood Park. It also includes at least four locations that aren’t even listed on the Starbucks.ca site!

Take a look, and let me know if I’ve missed any stores!

Read: Sbux in Edmonton

Starbucks Records featuring Sir Paul?

Post ImageThe New York Post seems to think that Starbucks is gearing up to launch a record label, called Starbucks Records. Creative, isn’t it? Of course a record label needs musicians, and to that end, Starbucks is going after none other than Sir Paul McCartney himself (via 901am):

Starbucks Records is expected sign, record and produce its own artists rather than licensing songs from other labels.

That’s where Sir Paul comes in. The wrinkly rocker not only fits with the Starbucks demographic, but also is a free agent not signed to any label, sources said.

The reason Starbucks thinks they can do this is their targeted, efficient distribution channel. I mean they have stores on just about every corner in major cities, and they attract a very specific clientele.

If it’s just putting CDs on racks in their stores though, Starbucks is missing a big opportunity. The Post article mentions a good idea:

There have been talks about putting kiosks in its shops so that customers can shop for music and create their own compilations while waiting for their $5 cup of joe.

That would be awesome! There should also be a DRM-free digital component to the project.

To say they are creating a “record label” sounds fairly antiquated to me. Starbucks should use this opportunity to redefine the term “record label.”

Read: New York Post

Free Starbucks on March 15

Post ImageCoffee addicts rejoice! I just came across this excellent news at the Starbucks Gossip blog:

Next Thursday, all company-operated and licensed Starbucks stores in the U.S., Canada, and other countries will give away free Tall (12-ounce) cups of coffee to anyone who drops by for the second annual Starbucks Coffee Break.

What a great idea! I’m so there.

Read: Starbucks Gossip