Thank you so much.
Why? There is a long backstory that you would have to know of, before I can come to the reasons for this longish letter.
I am a struggling writer and I spend a lot of time working out of third places (you know, not office, not home). Third places are coffee shops, hotel lobbies, office receptions and other such open places. When I say I work out of third places, I mean I am on my laptop and I try and write. I try. And I write. What I write may or may not be good but I write.
All these third places offer me a few things that are essential for working out of those places. Enough space for me to sit comfortably, a power socket, a table, a chair and unlimited supply of water. I have given away a fortune to all these third places trying to find my comfort place. And despite all the attempts, I have never been able to find the right combination. Combination of space, seating, options to eat, hospitality and prices.
You know, I have been to almost all coffee retailing brands. From a Café Coffee Day to Barista to Gloria Jeans to Costa and all ten thousand other such businesses. Each of them is same, is about relationships, chilling out, friendship and all these “addy” things. Each of them is a brilliant business with proven business models but to me, they are in the business of retailing expensive food and beverages, under the garb of third places. Nothing wrong with it. Everyone is here to make money.
At each of these third places, everytime I have spent more than an hour, I have almost always got glances from the staff. If I don’t order enough to keep cash registers ringing, I have had staff coming to me and asking me for orders that I don’t want to make. You know, I am a cheapstake. But then like Pavlov’s dog I got trained to look for signs of displeasure of the staff at these places and make a move right before they would put me in an uncomfortable position. At times the move is good, I need a break after working for an hour. But most times these breaks, break the flow. Flow if you know, is hard to get.
Ok, enough of rant. I can go on about problems with coffee shops.
|Starbucks at Arrival area, Mumbai Domestic Airport|
I studied business management and was taught of a lot of case studies on interesting businesses created by passionate entrepreneurs. I heard about Starbucks in a marketing class. And then I read Schulz’ book. And I have been a fan ever since. Since Starbucks was not in India those days, I could at best remain a fan on paper.
I remember the first time I went abroad in 2008 (or was it 2007?), I went to Paris. It was a memorable trip and I was excited about flying abroad for the first time. And I wanted to goto just three places in Paris. Not the Eiffel, not the Louvre, not the Moulin Rogue. But Ikea, Disneyland and, you guessed it, Starbucks.
And I did. This was a Starbucks in Louvre, if I am not wrong. Its been some time so details are little sketchy but I remember getting a picture clicked outside the Starbucks. The coffee was too expensive for me and I wasn’t paid any money to spend while I was there. So I did not buy anything from but like I said, I did get a picture.
And since then, everytime I have travelled abroad, I have tried to go see your stores. From small ones to big ones. And like any business that has operations on this scale, I have encountered the good, the bad and the ugly.
And then one fine day we hear that Starbucks is coming to India.
And media latched it up like crazy for some reason. Did you put a lot of money in PR? You did not have to spend any money on marketing – people queued up outside your first store for hours to get in and buy a coffee. It’s a coffee afterall. Right? You can not make It that great that people queue up? But then people in Mumbai have always queued up for everything and I left it at that.
Till the time I hadn’t visited a store, I dismissed you guys as yet another American brand coming to India and selling their over expensive merchandise to us. I did not goto a Starbucks for quite some time. And then, on insistence of a friend, I went to Elphinestone store one late night after dinner. And I was surprised, no, I was shocked to see the store. It looked like the coffee shop that I have always dreamt of opening. It was a brilliant mix between Indian and American ethos. Loved every bit about it. There was a lot of detailing in that store. More detailing than a girl probably puts in her makeups for her wedding in India. In fact that store on list of one of the top ten places to visit in Mumbai. The other nine, let me write a post about that.
And since a visit to that store, I have been to a few stores in Mumbai and Delhi. And each of your café has a distinct personality and yet they are part of Starbucks, the business. You guys even made the colour Green cool for me.
By this time you must be wondering, why the letter! Let me come to it.
Why this letter?
So, after all the stories, here is the real reason for this letter.
You guys are the only establishment that made me feel invited, like we Indians welcome a guest at home. And not treat me like a customer at a shop.
When guests visit me at my home, I don’t call them customers, I don’t call them Sirs or Ma'ams. I call them by their first names. So do you. You are probably the only business (in hospitality industry and otherwise) that has addressed me by my first name.
When my guests come see me, I don’t ask them to leave if they have no more conversations left. You do not ask me to leave if I do not order a beverage or a snack.
I am accommodating for guests at home. So are you.
I am very friendly, to the extent of getting obnoxious. So are you.
And thus the letter.
Thank you for inviting me like a guest, treating me like a friend and taking care of me like your boyfriend (or girlfriend if you will). Thank you for not overtly selling coffee. Thank you for great work on the business. Thank you for giving me a lesson in brand and business management. Thank you for your patience. Thank you, most importantly, for the way you serve me water. In a glass, with a lid and a straw. Love sipping water like that. You made water sexy for me.
Thank you once again.
As you expand to more locations in India, hope you can continue the great work. I cannot really afford a lot of your beverages all the time but I can definitely make my gratitude more evident. This letter, is one such way to show my gratitude. Hope I can think of more. Till then, thanks a ton!
And a disclaimer
And for anyone else that may be reading this, I am NOT a coffee fan. I do not even drink coffee. Coffee constipates my system. I order iced teas when I am at coffee shops.
And Starbucks is NOT paying me to write this, neither do I expect something from them. They are merely giving me a place where I can sit and work. I did order a Black Tea Ice Tea but I paid for it myself.
And Starbucks, thank you guys, yet another time.