Starbucks Saturation

If it seems like there’s a Starbucks on every corner, that’s because it’s the company’s strategy, at least according to an antitrust lawsuit filed by a Bellevue, Washington, barista. According to the Seattle Weekly article, Penny Stafford claims that Starbucks works out deals with landlords to prevent competing coffee shops from opening in office buildings, locking Stafford out of the best spots for espresso sales in Bellevue. In that office-building-rich city, Starbucks has “first dibs” on 78 percent of the downtown Class A office buildings, according to the lawsuit as reported in the Seattle Times—and, the lawsuit alleges, Starbucks has exclusive lease agreements in 35 percent of high-rises nationwide.

While many experts thought Stafford’s case would be dismissed, a federal judge recently ruled that it can head to court. The trial is scheduled for November 2008.

As the Seattle Weekly article notes, a new Starbucks store opens every 3.4 hours. Starbucks’s carpet-bombing approach may be collapsing under its own weight, though. Even the company’s chairman, Howard Schultz, whose official title is chief global strategist, thinks the stores have become commoditized, as he stated in a memo leaked in February:

Some people even call our stores sterile, cookie cutter, no longer reflecting the passion our partners feel about our coffee. In fact, I am not sure people today even know we are roasting coffee. You certainly can’t get the message from being in our stores.