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What Do You Really Sell? The Starbucks vs. Peets Story

I was out and about in my hometown of Fairfield, CA recently and had a few minutes to kill before meetings so thought I’d park myself in a café and get some work done. “I’ll go to Starbucks”, I thought. “Well, on second thought, Peet’s is on the way too, I’ll go to Peets. I like Peets’ coffee better anyway… “. Then I remembered, “Oh wait, but last time I had trouble logging on to the internet and had to go back up to the register to get a code to log in … oh yeah, what a pain. I’ll just go to Starbucks where I can log on instantly.”

Wow – it hit me like a ton of bricks. Admittedly, I like Peets better and always have. (I’ve been Peets fan since Starbucks was just a twinkle in the eye of the Seattle grunge crowd) And still I chose Starbucks because of a seemingly miniscule –and almost stupid – little “extra”. How hard would it have been for me to be proactive and ask for the code when I ordered my coffee? Not hard at all. But what if I forgot? Then I’d have to leave my laptop, coffee, and handbag at the table and hope it would be ok or pack it all up and schlep back to the register to get the code. So, I picked the easier and more convenient option- even if it wasn’t my first choice for actual coffee.

So, what’s going on here then? Are Starbucks and Peets in the coffee business or the internet service provider business? Well, clearly, if it was all about the coffee, I’d have chosen Peets.

What struck me is the realization of how much peripheral services and add-ons have made products and services about much more than the products and services themselves; Starbucks and Peets don’t sell coffee. They sell an experience. And so do you.

We small business owners need to examine the entire experience we deliver; not just the product or service offering. What do we do every single day to make it not only easy, but absolutely and completely 100% convenient, pleasant and fun to do business with us? The internet code in the coffee shop seems like such a stupid – almost insignificant – little thing and yet because of it, I chose Starbucks over Peets even though I prefer Peets coffee. Seems crazy, doesn’t it? Not really when you realize they are not merely selling a $4 cup of coffee – but a whole experience that happens to revolve around that $4 cup of coffee.

You may very well have the best product or service in town but what is the one seemingly insignificant thing that could cause your customers to turn to a competitor instead? It may be something you never even thought of. Something you don’t consider an obstacle. How easy is it for customers to find you, to reach you, to pay you? How do they feel when they walk into your office or store or call you? Is your space clean and inviting, does it smell good? (Oh, that’s another story – there is a Raley’s in town that I will avoid at all costs because it smells like a mixture of pine sol and old fish).  Do they get a warm welcoming feeling? Are your restrooms clean? Do your employees smile or are they grumpy? Do you easily provide all the little “extras” that are now standard in your industry? Do you go above and beyond expectations? Do you make it absolutely seamless and fun to do business with you? Do you deliver an entire experience or do you simply sell a product or service? It’s worth thinking about and taking a long hard look at, I know I am….

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17 Responses

  1. Great reminder! Some of this bridges the gulf between who I am and who my story is. Not my particular (peculiar) personal story, but the story that is the face of my work. What and how I choose to present in my work is important in this because I need to be sure I’m not alienating part of my audience, that the road they travel with me is more common than not.

    Thanks for the blog. Makes me glad I recently subscribed.

    1. Carolyn

      Hi Rob,

      I’m really glad you subscribed too – but mostly I’m glad you’re glad! :-p Thank you for the thoughtful and insightful comment. Best of luck and I hope you continue to enjoy the road you travel with me! 🙂 – Carolyn

  2. David

    Yes I (and others) definitely go out of my way for overall experience. E.g., I travel extra miles to go to a small hardware store (as opposed to a big box) even though the prices are a tad higher and the selection not as great. They are well staffed, friendly & helpful, and making an effort to offer green products.


    (Keep up the good work – your blogs are on target)

  3. David

    I found it interesting that you chose the store that did not have the better coffee. I think it starts with good product, but people come back for great service and the small things (like remembering their names, or just saying good morning and asking how they’re doing).


    1. Carolyn

      Thank you for your comment. I believe that good product is part of what consistently brings people back – as my story demonstrates. What really brings people back is product + service + experience = overall experience.

      -Carolyn Higgins

  4. Great example and reminder on what’s really important – the experience and making it easy to do business with you. Reminds me of what Gary Vaynerchuk wrote in his book Crush It in the chapter on The Best Marketing Strategy Ever: “CARE.” How much more effective would our marketing be if we simply took the time to really care about what’s most important to our customers and prospects?

    1. Carolyn


      You also made an excellent point and it goes back to the comment I left to Scott’s post. Keeping in mind the know, like and trust aspect meaning of marketing- we really need to be in our customer’s heads and model our business around their needs, wants and desires. When we really learn how to do that amazing things start happening! Thanks for your comment!

  5. Great article. That quality of going above and beyond is so valuable these days, in that it has become increasingly uncommon. For myself, I’ve become accustomed to the grocery clerk that doesn’t make eye contact, the waitress who obviously doesn’t want to be at work, etc. A breath a fresh air and a renewed confidence is gained when I have contact with a business, or its employee, who goes the extra mile. With sincerity.

    1. Carolyn

      Thank you for your comment- you made a great point about sincerity. I stress to the small business owners I work with that marketing isn’t this “thing” they do on the side; rather, everything we do is marketing. My favorite definiton of marketing is simple: Getting people who have a need to know, like and trust you – and when you think in those terms every touch point, contact, communication and image you represent is affecting that know like and trust factor. So, it’s important to fill your business with employees who truly have the customer experience in mind all the time and truly enjoy helping people.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Scott- if anyonoe knows about going the extra mile for their clients, it’ you!

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