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Where Starbucks Went Wrong

By now, most of you have seen Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s open letter. Before I go over where we went wrong, I want to point this out as a template for other companies looking to avoid inserting themselves into the gun debate to avoid like the plague. If Starbucks’ goal was to end the open carry demonstrations, without pissing off the rest of the gun community, this letter is full of fail. Let me explain.

That’s why I am writing today with a respectful request that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas.

OK, but you see about 6 million to 8 million of us are licensed to carry firearms, and in at least one large state there’s no license requirement at all. Additionally, in several states, open carry has long been accepted and normal. When you say you don’t want firearms in your stores, you’re essentially saying you don’t want us in your stores, spending money. So don’t be surprised when a lot of people respect your wishes and take their business to your competitors. A simple change of one word in this sentence, changing “bring” to “display” would address the perceived concern in a way that doesn’t alienate people who just want to “carry” and not make a big stink about it. Presumably Starbucks doesn’t actually believe that people carrying concealed, or openly in places that’s accepted and normal, is a problem for them. The problem for them was the folks turning Starbucks into a gun show.

Recently, however, we’ve seen the “open carry” debate become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening. Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called “Starbucks Appreciation Days” that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of “open carry.”

OK, there’s a lot of “pro-gun activists” who think what the open carry activists are doing with Starbucks is supremely unhelpful, and have tried to discourage it. Some of those people even previously encouraged “Starbucks Appreciation Days,” where we called on people just to go and spend money, and tell corporate they appreciated their position. We don’t think there was anything “misleading” about it. We did not wish to drag Starbucks into the gun debate in a public way. By not separating the clownish behavior from those of us who advocated a more measured approach, you actually just insulted the very people who would have been able and willing to advocate against the kind of open carry activism you were concerned about.

To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners.

I don’t blame Starbucks for not wanting these events in their stores. This has gone way beyond what we initially advocates. To be honest, if they had banned only open carry in their stores, I wouldn’t have blamed them, and would have said the open carry activist community brought this on themselves by pushing the company way beyond their comfort zone. But that’s not what Starbucks chose to do. Whether willfully or ignorantly, they’ve informed millions of American concealed carry licensees they’d prefer not to have our business. If that wasn’t their intention, they needed to take more care in their ultimate statement. This is a good lesson for companies who may end up in Starbucks’ position.

37 Responses to “Where Starbucks Went Wrong”

  1. KevinC says:

    It should have and could have been handled with “Ok, you appreciate us. Now stop it, please.”

    I think the release was written by someone who had NO CLUE about “gun culture” and wrote something that he/she thought was appropriate.

    Memo to PR flacks: Do a little research on how the audience for your release before you write it.

    • Dan says:

      You don’t understand. You don’t appreciate it enough, you just need more open carry normalization. I’ll just hang out next to your desk with an M60 and then you’ll be completely accepting of guns in “public.”

    • Dave says:

      What the PR person does have a clue about is the culture of money. First and foremost, Starbucks exists to provide value and returns for shareholder – that’s it.

      Now on the the little pressers that were being held and conducted at Starbucks outlet – enough was enough. Who can blame Starbucks. The most recent round of nonsense went beyond an appreciation day. It became a “hey, hey, look at me and my gun at Starbucks”. One has to ask, what were sales really like those days at those stores? A bunch of dudes who spent like $9 and hung around for three hours.

      Once again, the OC militants over played their hand, like they always do. Now they can cry and whine about Starbucks and how they’ll never spend money there again when in reality they only spend $9 a year in the stores when they were media whoring it up.

      Hey guys, Walmart still tolerates OC. Why don’t you go act up there and get us the same Starbucks result? If you have a 501(c)(3) you can hold a fundraiser at Walmart and get matching funds for more ass clowning activities.

  2. Steve says:

    meh.. I think the distinctions you’re expecting the Starbuckian CEO or PR flacks to understand are too esoteric. They are supposed to understand there’re subcultures to gun culture? That’s about as productive as earnestly expecting the general public to discern between an anarchist and a minarchist, or twenty years ago between volitile and non-volitile memory. Unless one’s involved in the culture itself, everyone’s lumped into the “all y’all” bucket.
    I think the right reading here is to take the hit on this one and learn as a community where the fine line is between helpful and harmful advocacy.

    • Sebastian says:

      I think in this day in age, if you’re a company like Starbucks, you can hire people that can help you navigate subcultures. Maybe they did, in this case, and their consultants just sucked. Who knows. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

      And my next post is going to be on the topic you mentioned.

  3. Ed says:

    What gets me is the fact that this open letter was release yesterday on Constitution Day and the paragraph they chose to underline.

    “For these reasons, today we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer bring firearms into our stores or outdoor seating areas—even in states where “open carry” is permitted—unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.”

    I realize the Starbucks is free to set whatever rules on their own private property, but just because someone wears a costume and a badge to work they should not be treated differently.

    I feel more comfortable around civilians carrying guns than I do being around cops carrying guns.

    This gets to the heart of the matter with the NFA of 1934 and every other gun law that takes away a right from “the people”, but allows certain people who wear costumes to work extra rights.

    Can someone point me to the text in the Constitution that grants extra rights because of your chosen occupation?

    • Dave says:

      “but just because someone wears a costume and a badge to work they should not be treated differently.”

      Unfortunately the law does not agree with you on this one. When I am in uniform I don’t have the choice to walk away, ignore certain things, or not act. There are times I have to put myself in harms way to get someone else out of something they could have avoided or walked away from. I have to inject myself into volatile situations which really just suck to have to deal with. I have to give people directions, politely, when I really want to tell them to use the damn GPS on their phone.

      I don’t really care if you OC or what your reason is for it. You, have the luxury of walking away, telling someone it’s not your problem, and you can ignore a whole world of things and people that I (when in uniform) have to deal with every day.

      As far as the constitution and those drum banger here. You can’t violate someone’s first, second, third, fourth… amendment rights. I, when working, walk a fine line between doing my job and not violating someone’s rights (can anyone say 1983 civil rights lawsuit). As for where in the constitution does it say “yada yada yada” you always forget that Starbucks is private property and you really don’t have constitutional rights while in their stores and there are very few rights they can violate where you would have a shred of recourse.

      • motomed says:

        “Unfortunately the law does not agree with you on this one. When I am in uniform I don’t have the choice to walk away, ignore certain things, or not act.”

        You sure? A number of rulings have stated pretty much the opposite of that.

        • Dave says:

          Yeah show me those rulings. What, you’re going to cite Castle Rock v. Gonzales without reading the full opinion. That was a weak case by the plaintiff. Really read the full SCOTUS opinion.

          Or, are you going to tell me about Warren v. District of Columbia, another weak case that you should fully read.

          • Patrick H says:

            Yep, both. They clearly say that cops are under no obligation to protect. And it takes A LOT to get a court to go against a cop.

          • motomed says:

            Those in fact are two supreme court cases that directly contradict what you said. Sorry you consider them weak… Can you show me the case that says an officer has a duty to intervene in all situations?

            Show me a case (even a weak one!) where an officer was held liable in any sort of way for failing to act because of concerns for their safety? Reprimanded? Fired? Lost a lawsuit? You won’t find the case… “officer safety” is the claim that covers any and all decisions an officer makes… show me cases that say otherwise… happy searching!

      • Patrick H says:

        (You are a cop? Explains a few things.)
        “I, when working, walk a fine line between doing my job and not violating someone’s rights (can anyone say 1983 civil rights lawsuit).”

        HAHAHAHAHAHA. Courts are so favorable to cops its not even funny. I mean, you can murder someone and get away with out anybody but peons arguing different.

    • HSR47 says:

      “Can someone point me to the text in the Constitution that grants extra rights because of your chosen occupation?”

      Actually, this is theoretically prohibited by the ‘Title of Nobility’ clause of the federal Constitution.

    • Patrick H says:

      “I realize the Starbucks is free to set whatever rules on their own private property, but just because someone wears a costume and a badge to work they should not be treated differently.”

      Totally agree. If cops can do it, then I should too. That’s what “all men are created equal” means. That no man is above the law, and there are no classes.

  4. Ron says:

    Starbucks is free to do as they please. America is a free country. It is their stores & their liability. I have a hard time saying their decision & their attitude is wrong. WHO am I to declare right from wrong,,,,, this is a matter of opinion. The minute we (gun owners) look to be accepted and welcomed by each facet of society we are in for a grave disappointment. Where do we get the idea that everybody should accept our ways & our attitudes? Guns are NOT for everybody.

    I say we shrug our shoulders, and move on & leave this dead horse alone. After all, how important is it?

    • Sebastian says:

      Sure… and I’m free to not spend money there, and advocate other people do the same. There is nothing wrong with anyone demanding acceptance, and making a case their behavior is normal and not any reason to discriminate. We have to do that. Otherwise you’ll quickly find you can’t carry anywhere because the antis have bullied every corporation into banning guns. We have to stick up for ourselves.

      • The Jack says:

        There’s also as Tam said: “When I am politely asked to not give someone my money, it would be rude of me to ignore their request.”

      • Ron says:

        Acceptance & respect are two different critters. I respect Starbuck’s right to formulate their own opinion/stance. I ask them in return to respect my stance. Neither one of us may accept the other guy’s outlook due to our own views,,,, but we should respect their’s.

        How many business today have taken what appears to be an “anti stance” due to the legal ramifications they are trying to steer clear of. Where you stand on an issue may well depend on where you sit,,,,, as in CEO, board of directors, etc.

        In this case I seem to sense that gun rights and the “business of coffee” are not mixing well. Where did we get that notion that they would?

        I got $100 that says by year’s end, many of you will be back at your local Starbucks, carrying concealed as always, and life will go on.

  5. Matt R. says:

    Having read the precise language of the missive once again, I think that they could have written a better letter. But they didn’t, so I have to agree with most of the folks here….again.

    I am going to continue not going to Starbucks. A five dollar cup of coffee has to be better than the 99 cent gas station brew.

    Also, no one NEEDS a Frappuccino….

    Matt R.

  6. dustydog says:

    Big opportunity here for Dunkin Doughnuts to step up and welcome all law-abiding customers. If I ran a coffee shop, I would leap at this chance. At a minimum, it would be a story in the local news.

    • mike123 says:

      I’m not sure that will happen. DD is based in Massachusetts and the CEO is from the UK. He would have to overcome alot of anti-gun societal bias to take a pro-gun stance.

      I’m pretty disappointed in SBUX. I made sure to go there to offset the financial impact of Moms Not Getting Action’s boycott. I even paid with $2 bills to send them the message.

      I’ll honor Schultz’s request and keep my firearm and myself out of his stores.

    • Bitter says:

      No coffee house needs to “step up” and do anything beyond serve coffee. That’s part of the problem here. Some gun owners felt that any business they visited needed to do a public endorsement of their politics, and businesses largely aren’t interested in doing it.

  7. motomed says:

    Asking every company in the country to go out of their way to take a stand on an issue that has nothing to do with their actual business is a bit ridiculous. The only play for companies with locations in different parts of the country is to just shut up and defer to the local managers. It’s not fair for roughly half of your local managers to have to deal with this based on which way corporate leans. It’s not fair of us to make local guy’s job more difficult when he has no say in any of it. If someone goes out of their way to crap on gun rights, by all means boycott and be obnoxious, but this open carry garbage in “support” of corporations who resist the urge to crap on us is not a good look….

    If your goal is to normalize open carry, do it normally, not as part of some demonstration…. idiots….

    • Bryan S. says:

      Many of them do take a stance, but placing stickers on their window, and signs on their door that make those of us who take the responsibility to practice our rights into a second class citizen.

      That has become a societal norm, and it was a planned one on making you and I into a pariah.

  8. Braden Lynch says:

    I view it as they did not take a stand earlier and they were just fine. They were trying to be Switzerland. They said they simply respect the local and state laws for respective stores and concern themselves with selling coffee. Perfect neutrality.

    Well, now the CEO has become political and said that I am not welcome and I will respect his wishes. I have bought a lot of Starbucks coffee before, but now I will just brew my own in my home. The stockholders and the board should have him removed.

  9. Ursa Ele says:

    Above, someone posted this: “you always forget that Starbucks is private property and you really don’t have constitutional rights while in their stores and there are very few rights they can violate where you would have a shred of recourse.”

    Actually, the very fact that what you said is not true was the whole point of the 1960’s civil rights movement. Just because retail commerce is conducted on private property does not give the property owners or the store operators the power to abrogate anyone’s Constitutionally protected rights. That is because these retail establishments are what is called “public accommodations.”

    In Pennsylvania, the prohibited places for carrying guns are carefully spelled out in the uniform Firearms Act and there are only a few places like school properties, secure areas of airports where a gun can not be carried. There is nothing in that law that allows a private property owner to deny your right to carry a gun. Particularly in the case of a public accommodation (that would include Starbucks retail stores), they can not enforce a gun ban in PA. If you are at my home and I ask you to leave for whatever reason I choose, you have to leave. But if I am running a coffee shop on my property, I can not legally make you leave without a valid reason, and that reason can not be that you are black, you are Christian, you are exercising your Constitutionally protected rights, etc, because of the legal issues involving public accommodations.

    • Sebastian says:

      Those are anti-discrimination laws that apply to public accommodations, and only to protected classes of people. Gun owners are not a protected class in any state, that I’m aware of, when it comes to public accommodations. But they are a protected class for purposes of employment under some circumstances in some states.

  10. Patrick says:

    Why didn’t they stop by saying they don’t want OC, but are OK with CC?

    Take a look at it from their perspective. They gave us an inch and we took a mile. Had they just said, “No Open Carry”, they would have to constantly worry that our community would once again use Starbucks to claim a “win” on concealed carry.

    So they shut down the debate, without really changing anything. They took away the rhetorical football we were using. Now there is no way our community can use Starbucks in our games anymore.

    We backed them into a corner and then get pissed when they respond in kind. I bet they were more than a little concerned and perhaps a bit pissed. I think they showed restraint in their approach here.

    • craig says:

      If they had asked for no OC but said nothing about CC, then they would have made their point about not being a political demonstration venue. By asking for no guns, period, they have chosen sides.

      It’s analogous to their saying “gays not welcome here” instead of “gay-rights protests not welcome here”. While they might conceivably get away with the latter, the former is politically unthinkable. 2A supporters should aim for the same level of tolerance.

      • Sebastian says:

        What they did, to make that analogy, is to ask gays not to come to their store because they were uncomfortable with the activists wearing assless chaps to make a point. They took a broad and discriminatory action when “Hey, we love you gay guys, but we’d really appreciate it if you didn’t wear assless chaps to Starbucks.”

  11. beatbox says:

    It was about a very small portion of their customer base (people who open carry) making the business inhospitable for a larger portion of their customer base.

  12. Drifter says:

    We have met the enemy, and he is us. No, really. We got into this because of jackwagons on our side. Are people really going to boost the jackwagon factor?

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/09/starbucks-gun-ban-schultz-open-carry-letter.html?mid=twitter_nymag

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