Mike on America

A Grande Non-Fat Vanilla Latte And Clean Bathrooms


I'm standing in line at the Starbucks   at the Jackson-Evers International Airport in Jackson, Mississippi. I can see the newsstand from here, and sure enough there's a little blurb about Howard Schultz taking over the CEO spot at the 'Bucks.

Yo, Howard, I can tell you what's wrong with company from right here. I'm looking at the young lady dealing with the orders. She looks tired. I'm looking at the pastry case. Same old tired banana nut muffin that I just saw at the Houston airport. You suppose they flew it over with me? I'm looking at the chalk board. Same tired old 'cutesy' drink concoctions. Is there a theme here?

Apart from Schultz himself and maybe a few folks that work for him, I likely visit more Starbucks locations in more cities than anyone you know. I was an early adapter and have been a consistent user, in every state and more than ten foreign countries. And tired pretty much wraps it up.

There is something in the article about McDonald's starting to serve specialty coffee drinks and that being the reason Schultz has decided to take the helm again. Oh come on. McDonald's doing specialty drinks? They can try it, but a cappuccino won't get me back into a McDonald's.

I haven't eaten in one in over a decade and you want to know why? The bathrooms. Time after time when I stopped at a McDonald's the bathrooms were dirty. There was trash under the seats and in the parking lots. I started to wonder what else they weren't cleaning. So much for that Big Mac I used to so love. They still make them right?

Been to a Starbucks in NYC lately? How was the bathroom? How was the experience? Schultz doesn't have to worry about competition from McDonald's, he has to worry about becoming McDonald's. I do believe he is quoted as saying that he thinks there is room in the market for 40,000 Starbucks worldwide. The problem with ubiquity is quality. There isn't any.

I was never more impressed with the leader of a company than I was in Athens at the Olympics in 2004. I was standing in line at a Starbucks early one morning and who do I see walk in the other door? Howard Schultz. "What are you doing here?", he asked me with a smile. I said, "I know what I'm doing here, what the hell are YOU doing here?"

He was in town checking out the 30 Starbucks they had opened for the games with a Greek partner.

The bathrooms were clean by the way, the pastry was different, and the folks behind the counter had that ole Starbucks enthusiasm. It's tough to maintain quality. It's tough to keep the core competency of any business solid. There is too much temptation and pressure to grow, to try different things, to become something else. What happens then?

You get tired, and people get tired of you.

'Mike On America' is in Mississippi and Alabama this week, and on Power Lunch Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Good stories, give them a look. Ah, my latte is at the bar.

Questions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com