Dear Peet’s… and Stumptown and Intelligentsia,
I don’t know to whom to address this, and therein lies the reason I’m writing. I want to address this letter to Peet’s Coffee & Tea, as well as Stumptown and Intelligentsia, whom you (Peet’s) recently acquired. Yet, you intend to keep your partners operating independently, so do I address you separately? Or are Stumptown and Intelligentsia automatically cc’ed under the umbrella of your company?
Knowing, as I do, nothing about corporate operations, acquisitions, buyouts, sellouts and the subtle differences between corporate partnerships and corporate ownership, I am in no place to predict whether you intend to absorb and conquer all your competition (in the footsteps of Starbucks), or stand by your promise to preserve the quality and individuality of your new partners. That remains to be seen, and I’ll be watching. All I can do is fear you follow Starbucks’ lead, and hope you don’t.
I wrote to Starbucks a few weeks back shaming them for their decision to close all La Boulange cafes. Starbucks acquired La Boulange in 2012, when I first worked there. My understanding of the acquisition at the time (although I had my suspicions otherwise) was a sort of exchange: Starbucks serves La Boulange pastries if La Boulange serves Starbucks coffee. Fair enough. And here we are three years later and not a single La Boulange remains.
Unless you count the six San Francisco locations original owner Pascal Rigo managed to salvage and re-open under the clever guise of a slightly different name: La Boulangerie. Fine save, Pascal, atta boy. I’ll be heading there soon for some almond croissants. But the point is, Starbucks bought La Bou in 2012, and three years later, Starbucks holds the hammer that nailed the boards on the doors and the lid on the coffin of Pascal’s vision, his baby, La Boulange.
I wasn’t in on the deal, so I don’t know what Starbucks promised or led Pascal to believe about the future and security of his prosperous and steadily-expanding cafes when he entered the deal, but I’d be willing to bet he would never have signed if he knew he was condemning all of his cafes to close. As the future owner of my currently imaginary coffee shop, I know I’d never sell for any sum of money if it meant my company would be in anybody else’s hands, because with passion comes possessiveness. Ask anyone who’s ever been in love. Centuries from now, above the doors to my cafe, no doubt still standing, will be the words “Family-Owned Since.” And “Not for Sale.”
The way I see it, the Peet’s-Stumptown-Intelligentsia partnership will play out in one of three ways:
- Intelligentsia and Stumptown, you have naively and unknowingly agreed to the same tragic fate as La Boulange, and come three years from now, your original locations will close when you no longer serve the greater needs of your new parent corporation, Peet’s.
- You (I & S) have knowingly sold out to Peet’s at the expense of the businesses / brands you built, for the personal financial gain of the individuals who signed their x’s on the line.
- You (Peet’s) stand by your promise to preserve Intelligentsia’s and Stumptown’s independence, and these deals go down in history as the budding seeds of a revolutionary business model, one which deviates 180 degrees from the absorb-and-conform model Starbucks follows, and instead accommodates diversity and quality, as you profess it will.
I have my doubts about the likeliness of the third scenario, but a girl can hope… and plead, and write a letter you’ll never read. And although I have my money on 1 and 2, I dare you — prove me wrong. Tyler Ricks, your (Peet’s) CMO, assures us in an interview with Sprudge that you (Peet’s) are, “not interested in rolling it up in one big brand.” Likewise, Intelligentsia co-founder Doug Zell states in the same interview that this partnership “really just allows us to pursue our mission further.”
Peet’s supplies the financial resources and customer-base to expand Intelligentsia and Stumptown to reach a wider audience, while Stumptown and Intelligentsia supply the variety Peet’s has been lacking, until now. A fair exchange for everyone. Win-win. But I can’t help but notice some striking parallels between this and the deal between Starbucks and La Bou. So what’s the catch? Is there a death sentence sealed in the fine print of this deal?
Too soon to say. Let’s wait three years.
Ultimately, I believe true pride in one’s company renders it priceless, so no sum of money is enough to justify its sale, which is why I’m skeptical of the profit-incentive that dominates corporate decision-making. The way I see it, there are two kinds of companies: The first is a vehicle for money; the second is a vehicle for someone’s vision. Something personal, precious and loved. I know which kind mine will be, even if it means that it never breaks even, but I’ll always find satisfaction in knowing my coffee will never be served in a Peet’s coffee cup.
Congratulations on your acquisitions.