The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

Would you rather be Peet’s or Starbucks? March 1, 2010

It’s no secret that I’m a coffee addict. I simply can’t start my day without a decent coffee: an Americano Misto is my drink of choice. And, like many adults, my tastes are refining as I get older–I can no longer drink just any old slop–it has to be good, or I’m not satisfied (with the exception of Tim Horton’s, which gets my sentimental vote, as I grew up on it).

Many, many years ago, I was introduced to Peet’s Coffee by my high school english teacher and mentor, Art Griffin. Art would buy, and have his beans shipped from the States to Newfoundland, because that’s how much he loved the coffee. He told me the story of Peet’s.

Back in the ’60s, a hippie in Berkley named Alfred Peet started a coffee shop. Peet came from a coffee family, and when he opened his store, he roasted his beans on site. In 1971, some of his friends, English teacher Jerry Baldwin, history teacher Zev Siegel, and writer Gordon Bowker, decided to use his beans to open their own coffee shop in Pike Place Market in Seattle. They called it Starbucks.

About 10 or so years later, a guy named Howard Schultz came along. It was his idea to begin selling already-brewed coffee, not just beans, in Starbucks.

According to my teacher, Peet had an opportunity at this point to either continue in business with Baldwin, Siegel, Bowker and Schultz, but he chose not to.

The rest, as they say, is, ahem, history. Starbucks currently runs 16,634 stores in 49 countries around the world, and Peet’s operates almost 200 retail outlets, primarily in the western United States.

Ah, but here’s the rub: if you put a cup of Peet’s in front of me, and cup of Starbucks, and asked me to choose, Peet’s would win every time. I recently came back from Seattle with a pound of Sumatra, and I get some every time I go. To me, Starbuck’s coffee tastes burnt and acidic, and their mixed creations are way too sweet. I had a supreme Raspberry Mocha at Peet’s, which tasted like raspberries, chocolate and coffee, not too sweet.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think it’s possible to maintain quality across such a big board. With fewer stores, it’s easier to maintain your brand’s quality, although feel free to argue with me.

For sure, we all dream about becoming stinkingly rich and spending the rest of our days on our private yacht in the Mediterranean (or whatever your version of that is). But for me, I think I’m too much of a perfectionist to allow my name to be attached to something that was less-than-stellar quality.

So, I’d rather be Peet’s any day.

Please discuss over a cup of your favorite coffee.

http://www.daleisphere.com/the-intertwined-history-of-peets-and-starbucks/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peet%27s_Coffee_and_Tea

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3 Responses to “Would you rather be Peet’s or Starbucks?”

  1. Maria Says:

    I concur. I would rather buy a quality product from a small bussiness, preferebly local. However, addicts can’t be too picky. On the Drive I like Continental or Calabria. If you run more in the Mercedes Neighboburhoods than the bike zone I’d go with Caffe Artigiano.

    Starbucks is a bit like the bathroom in the mall…. in desperation it will do… if there’s nothing else.

  2. Aye, there’s the rub indeed! Peet’s wins every time, but Starbucks is the WINNER. You make an excellent point about not being able to maintain quality across such a big board. Do you suppose Alfred Peet believed he made the right decision?

    So many artists face similar dilemmas to Mr. Peet! Do I want to maintain the quality that’s so important to me? Or do I want to build an empire? Answering that question truthfully provides a guiding principle that makes tough decisions a lot easier.

    I’m glad you’ve made your decision, Rebecca. And I’m with you.

  3. Great post, Rebecca. I now have to try out Peet’s.

    As for artists, if only they (we) had these choices to make. Usually, the world, the market, the public, the internal makings of the artist, don’t offer such a decision to be made.

    I’m with the “Peet’s” side of things. Starbucks may be the winner in some eyes, but that’s not what life is about. If being a winner to one person was having one small coffee shop where you roasted your own beans and made $20,000 year, then more power to you.

    Our definitions of success and how we pursue things often have unintended consequences in our lives and they aren’t always good ones for us.


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