More than 15 years ago, long before they arrived here in Indy, I had a chance to sample Starbucks in its original form – in Portland, where coffee is serious business.  It was a a wonderful experience and I anxiously awaited the arrival of the first one here.

Then they came, slowly at first, then faster and faster, and faster… and suddenly they weren’t wonderful anymore, they were ordinary.    Starbucks has become the McDonald’s of coffee, consistent and predictable.

John Quell wrote this for the Harvard Business Review

Stores no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store.” Starbucks tried to add value through innovation, offering wi-fi service, creating and selling its own music.

More recently, Starbucks attempted to put the focus back on coffee, revitalizing the quality of its standard beverages. But none of these moves addressed the fundamental problem: Starbucks is a mass brand attempting to command a premium price for an experience that is no longer special.

There is a lesson here for any business owner. Be sure you know what makes you special and hold on to that as you grow!   In the very beginning it was the coffee.  But in Portland great coffee shops litter the street, so Starbucks created a brand around a coffee experience, but that can only be replicated so far and then it wears thin.

Today, I would much rather go to Hubbards and Craven in Broad Ripple.  What about you?