Photo: Robert Holmgren
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz shared a fantastic little anecdote about a cheese shop with the audience at the National Retail Federation’s conference in New York City.Every time he visits a new city, Schultz walks the streets, goes into stores, and tries to learn something that he can copy.
When he visited London, he had an experience that really stuck with him.
Schultz and Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb, who was on the stage for the keynote with the Starbucks chief, both touted the idea of love and humanity in companies. Schultz’s story was meant to reflect their importance.
Take it away, Howard:
“I find myself staring at a storefront that just did not belong on a street that was this expensive. And it was just one sign. Not the sign of the name of the store. It just said the word “cheese.” And it was about a 600-square foot store and a 10-foot wide storefront.
So I walked into the store. The store was merchandised very poorly, very bad lighting. And I walk in and there’s a guy behind the counter, maybe 75 years old, wearing a flannel shirt, ripped at the elbow — definitely not a Starbucks-type uniform. And I start talking to him.
He was kind of gruff at first and I start asking him questions and finally I got up the courage to say: ‘how do you afford the rent here?’
He says to me that: we don’t afford the rent — we own the building. And he — he really got me.
And then we started talking about heritage and tradition. And he says, young man, I’ve been here myself for about 50 years, and my grandfather was here before, and my great-grandfather was a goat herder. So this store, this business, has been in our family for generations. And I certainly could make much, much more money selling the building than I could selling cheese. But what would I say to my son, who is the next generation. And how would I look in the mirror and think about the pride and the responsibility that I have to the people that have come before me.
And with that conversation, every now and then, he was giving me a sample of cheese. And before I knew it, I had spent $50 on cheese, and I was in a hotel room by myself. This was the greatest merchant I have ever seen.
But it was about love. It was about responsibility. It was about knowing his product inside and out — The texture of the cheese, the mouth feel of the cheese, how the cheese would go with wine.
But most importantly, it was about humanity. It was a great lesson.”
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