Are Stealth Starbucks locations misleading customers?
If you feel good about supporting small local businesses every time you buy your coffee in the morning, you might want to research who really runs your local mom-and-pop. You might be buying Starbucks, whether you like it or not.
Paranoid as it may sound, outlets that have come to be known as "Stealth Starbucks" locations are a real phenomenon, according to a recent article in CityMetric. These are coffee shops that have the varied look and feel of indie stores with no green aprons or Starbucks logos to be found within, but are nonetheless owned and operated by Starbucks. Beginning in 2009 with an outlet called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea in Seattle, the company has occasionally opened these undercover operations in major markets.
In fact, the coffee shop on the second floor of the Herald Square Macy’s Flagship store is a Stealth Starbucks. Reporting at the time the location got its liquor license, Grubstreet revealed that the application was made under the subsidiary name, Coffee House Holdings, Inc, which Starbucks uses for its stealth locations.
Some speculate that there are more stealth locations out there than one might imagine.
According to the CityMetric article, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz maintains that the Starbucks locations are not meant to fool an indie crowd into patronizing his company.
CityMetric quotes Mr. Schultz from a 2010 interview with Marketing Magazine in which he said of the first wave of stealth operations, "It wasn’t so much that we were trying to hide the brand … [We were] trying to do things in those stores that we did not feel were appropriate for Starbucks."
That the Starbucks Evenings format now sells alcohol may be evidence that the company uses stealth locations to field-test new ideas and fold the successful ones into Starbucks proper.
Stealth Starbucks outlets are certainly not the only case of corporate entities slyly selling themselves under independent (perhaps more "ethical"-looking) banners. Acquisitions over the last decade have led to a slew of brands that were once manufactured by independent companies, such as Burt’s Bees, Odwalla and Naked Juice, now being produced by giant corporations. Many beer purists are caught off guard finding out Goose Island is owned by Budwesier and Blue Moon by Coors.
- Your local indie coffee shop may be a Stealth Starbucks – CityMetric
- The Secret Starbucks – NowIKnow.com
- ‘Stealth’ Starbucks Will Serve Beer and Wine Inside Renovated Macy’s – GrubStreet
- 13 Ethical Mom and Pop Brands that are Actually Owned by Giant Corporations – Business Insider
Could you see other retail chains using “stealth store” tactics and, if so, for what purposes? Do you find such concepts duplicitous to consumers?