I was shocked, when I rounded the corner just outside the Hofburg Palace in Vienna today, to find a Starbucks store next to Halder, the place I had come to visit. Halder is quintessentially Vienna, offering fine crafted products backed by perfect Viennese service. The quiet back-street has been disrupted by the coffee giant. Starbucks is the star and Halder the chorus. In this city of excellent coffee I could see no value in a Starbucks presence let along here next to the Halder store. I walked past the Starbucks and muttered something critical of globalisation.
The owner of the Halder store soon set me straight. I asked her what she thought about Starbucks, expecting some venting. She almost whispered how happy she was they were there. Even though they have only been open in this location for four months, business was up. Starbucks was proving to be an oasis for weary tourists – Vienna is a city where you walk most of the day to get around the key spots – and enough stopped in the Halder store to make Starbucks a welcome neighbor.
While business was steady before Starbucks, it was not showing great growth. Since Starbucks there has been good growth. New customers are finding Halder and as my own experience illustrates (three trips to Vienna and three trips to Halder) it’s a store you go back to. Their range is unique.
So, what does this mean for my views on globalisation? I cannot begrudge the owners of Halder the growth they have thanks to Starbucks. I also acknowledge that the coffee giant has created a store with some effort to fit in. Those points made, I have serious problems with globalisation: the bigger companies get, the more smaller competitors close; the more local customs are lost; the more service is a KPI and not something from within; and, the more a shrinking few control a growing bucket of global wealth.
It’s not all bad, as I found out in Vienna today.