Do you have Ikeaphobia or Starbucksitis?

posted by Jason Kottke Jan 27, 2004

Do you have Ikeaphobia or Starbucksitis?. Maybe you're not "being oppressed by flat-packable pine furniture with goofy pseudo-Scandinavian names".

Reader comments

CheapbastardJan 27, 2004 at 1:03PM

This essay is dead-on. I'm going to enjoy my Mocha Frappacino while assembling my flat-pine faux aged wall-unit with those tiny little damn allen wrenches.

Which brings me to my point, what's up with the tiny allen wrenches?

Stefan JonesJan 27, 2004 at 1:03PM

"And never mind that each of these latter firms is, to a greater or lesser degree, founded on what used to be known as progressive principles..."

This kind of thing is very threatening to radicals (right or left) of a certain stripe:

It's not enough that X is for Y; X has to buy into all the cultural baggage and ephemeral meme'age associated with Y, or it's worse than not being for Y at all.

Stefan JonesJan 27, 2004 at 1:04PM


According to The Simpsons, the little allen wrenches are aliens come to Earth in meteors. "Must have tungsten!"

JoergJan 27, 2004 at 1:15PM

Small point, but maybe if you're in China, drink tea. From local establishments. Broaden your world.

padraiginJan 27, 2004 at 1:50PM

Sometimes you just don't want to spend two grand on a couch that your kids are going to spit/shit/snot on for the next five years.

And Peet's makes the worst chai lattes I've ever had.

Sometimes, it's just not "about" anything, other than getting what you need.

Cheapbastard : Stefan JonesJan 27, 2004 at 2:30PM

Thanks for the clarificiation. They're ergonomically designed for their little alien hands.

Adam GreenfieldJan 27, 2004 at 2:37PM

Joerg: Don't jump to conclusion. As it happoens, I did, in Beijing and Jiangmen both, drink a great deal of tea. But sometimes the heart wants what it wants. ; . )

spygeekJan 27, 2004 at 2:45PM

Very true, Adam. I admit that I went into a Starbucks while in Berlin. I was on my first trip to Europe, and for some reason I decided a 4-week solo trip was the best plan. It was pretty cool but I was stressed out most of the time. I spotted a Starbucks during my 3rd week out, and I stopped in to reestablish my equilibrium. It was my only Americanized transgression that whole trip, and I credit it with preserving my sanity a little longer.

RolandJan 27, 2004 at 3:11PM

While I agree with what this guy says, I still wonder what he thinks of McDonald's et al.

Adam GreenfieldJan 27, 2004 at 3:28PM

"This guy" is a vegetarian, and I think Burger King's veggie burger is far more accomplished than McDonald's. I also refuse to eat at a place that panders and condescends to its audience with its advertising the way they do, which is to say: I ain't McJiggy Wit It.

JoergJan 27, 2004 at 3:35PM

Adam: Apologies for the jumping. It's a tough issue, as there is nothing inherently wrong with the single Starbucks you visit around the corner - it's just the bigger beast we're feeding in the process. Through Starbucks' strength it kills the 'biodiversity' of the original ecosystem it invades.

philJan 27, 2004 at 8:33PM

out in the suburban wastelands of central california, most people in a starbucks on any given day had never been to any of the FOUR coffee shops in town. That we now have 6 starbucks is great. It is teaching people about coffee and expresso. It is like a catch and release program.

as for IKEA, it is about a 160 mile round trip for me, but worth it. Out here in the valley all furniture is oversized for McMansions. Looked at couches for 6 months before finally finding a futon/couch at Cost Plus that wasn't 5 feet tall and wouldn't swallow the whole front room of our apartment.

mendelJan 27, 2004 at 10:14PM

Instead of thinking about neighbourhood coffee markets as ecosystems, why not think of them as markets?

According to a paper* published in the Harvard Business Journal, the effects of a Starbucks opening in a neighbourhood are not what one might immediately expect -- existing coffeeshops in the same segment experience a short drop in business that is quickly regained and continues to grow. Essentially, Starbucks opening in an neighbourhood increases demand for Starbucks-type coffee there, and that increased demand is met not only by the Starbucks but by the existing (or new!) local businesses.

Sure, Starbucks is selling Starbucks -- but there isn't a great deal of brand loyalty in that segment (see, for instance, how many coffee chains offer loyalty cards), so Starbucks ends up selling a generic idea of specialty coffee and ambiance, which other businesses can offer just as easily. Starbucks ends up the slow-mover; a Starbucks store, steered from head office, cannot respond rapidly to local circumstances, and local coffeeshops need only sell "Starbucks and more" to claim their part of the segment, and head across the street a few times at the beginning of the season to buy a round of Starbucks' new drinks to bring back to the shop and duplicate.

I see this quite a bit around here -- Starbucks stores are almost always found within a block of a store from the Canadian chain Second Cup, and those in turn are often accompanied by a store from the local fair-trade minichain Bridgehead. Starbucks sells their experience, Second Cup sells "Starbucks and Canadian", and Bridgehead sells "Starbucks and fair trade/organic/green and better baked goods", and all three thrive.

* Vijay Vishwanath and David Harding, "The Starbucks Effect", Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.

Alex ReynoldsJan 27, 2004 at 10:41PM

I liken Starbucks to Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams came along in the late 80s and had two immutable and major effects on the consumption of beer in the United States: first, SA raised expectation of quality of beer being drunk, and two, SA creates expectation and delivers a consistent product. Starbucks is successful for those same two reasons, among others. Even the most diehard coffee drinker I know will acknowledge that Starbucks makes a decent cup of joe, and the competition it creates has raised the bar that the rest of the joe-sellers on the block have to meet, which is good for all of us who like coffee (and beer).

NB: I do not work for Starbucks or Boston Brewing Company.

MikeJan 28, 2004 at 8:58AM

I think I have 12 of those allen keys now. Are they the seed of some strange plant, which we unwittingly spread?

ricardoJan 28, 2004 at 8:59AM

Disregarding lefty principles, it's also possible to be a non-fan of the pre-packaged experience. Call it aesthetics. Here in san francisco there are many bad coffeehouses. After some brave hunting, I found a small deli run by an immigrant guy who is a coffee gourmet and won't skimp on his brew. Much better tasting than starbucks. Its anti-convenience sure, but that just makes its sweeter.

YLJan 28, 2004 at 11:31AM

"hegemonizing ... devil that is Starbucks."

I'm assuming he means "homogenizing." If so, I hope it gets the Bloggy for Best Freudian Slip.

JonJan 28, 2004 at 12:49PM

heh ... welcome back Adam. I was ranting about just this subject in the pub last night, although you put it rather more eloquently (as always)

padraiginJan 28, 2004 at 12:49PM

Yeah, there's an intersection in Russian Hill that has, on each corner: a Starbucks, a Peet's, a Tully's, and some mom and pop place. All four are always well-peopled, their little sidewalk tables full. You can have your pick based on preference, or based on which side of the street you happen to be standing.

Starbucks is just a weird-ass phenomenon, with many layers.

I think I'm gonna make Ikea meatballs for dinner, incidentally.

Adam GreenfieldJan 28, 2004 at 1:37PM

No, he means hegemonizing. If he had meant "homogenizing," he would have said so.

Hey, Jon.

RolandJan 28, 2004 at 2:11PM

Ricardo: what's this nice little deli called?

YLJan 28, 2004 at 2:36PM

Then what the hell do you mean with this invented word, "hegemonizing"? We anti-Starbucks whiners think Strarbucks creates hegemonies? Whu?

Perhaps you mean hegemonic. That would come close to making sense, as well as employ an actual English word.

But not as much sense as homogenize. That's why I've been Starbucks-free this millennium. Bully for them for making good coffee and raising our standards, but I live in a city famous for its distinct neighborhoods, and with each new chain, those distinctions erode. No, Starbucks doesn't make me mediocre. It makes my neighborhood -- and my neighbors -- mediocre.

Starbucks: The homogenizing hegemony!

dowingbaJan 28, 2004 at 3:02PM

Speaking of brand loyalty, I'd like to note that Canadian chain Tim Horton's has immense brand loyalty. I've known people who go to the next town, past who knows how many other coffee joints, just to get Tim Horton's coffee (if they happen to live in a Tim Hortonless town).

Adam GreenfieldJan 28, 2004 at 3:17PM

YL, half my functional vocabulary is invented. That's what they pay me for, by crikey!

jay trautmanJan 28, 2004 at 3:50PM

I'm convinced that Tim Horton's employs subliminal messages in their TV spots. I've never been, but whenever I watch Hockey Night in Canada, I get a craving for Tim Horton's and a bubba of beer dressed like Don Cherry.

I'd be interested in Adam's thoughts on the Ikea shopping experience. On my first trip, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and aesthetics of their goods My roommates disappeared not long after we got there and found me two hours later, nearly whimpering in the corner. Their layout seems to make sense: sample rooms showing products in their intended environments, a well-defined path through the store (with shortcuts), pull tags for easy ordering. Yet, it feels exactly like Matthew Baldwin describes it: an epic battle.

Richard AndersonJan 28, 2004 at 5:54PM

Interesting bit that. I've been wondering from where the anti-Ikea thing comes.

Between Ikea and DWR, America may someday regain its place at the apex of modernism, as nicely illustrated in the film Bullitt. Haven't we had enough of the "country" aesthetic and other abberations?

On Starbucks, I thank them for seeding a revolution in America coffee culture. (Is that accurate? I was not really paying attention.) I do wish they were crossed with pubs, as seen in much of Europe.

John VuJan 28, 2004 at 6:37PM

Check out this article, wherein the author says buying something cheap and utilitarian from Ikea is truer to the spirit of modernism than getting an Eames piece from DWR.

mroyJan 28, 2004 at 10:43PM

hey! what's wrong with not liking ikea because of the labor in 3rd world countries they exploit? or for that matter, not drinking at starbucks because of their exploitation through buying practices? i do what i do because it's right for me. my friends like sugar filled coffee, and like bobby says: that's their prerogative. This article however, just seems like a huge i, me, mine, rationalization to me. what is wrong with buying from your local mom and pop stores? or buying union made or at least sweatshop free? to those nay sayers who will surely bring up cost, I say pooh-pooh! just this year I furnished my new apt with american made furniture and antiques that cost me less than the last apt. i furnished at ikea. granted I had to do a little work, reupholster a few items and refinish some chests of drawers but there was not one allen wrench involved! all in all i got real wood (you remember that stuff don't you?) mostly designs from the 50's and 60's (retro modern stuff) much cheaper than going to furni-mart, (it's recycling too!). it did take a little more time but it was much more fun finding retro and antiques on the weekend than waiting in line at ikea! as for the coffee - anh - this argument will probably cease as soon as the coffee craze ends like it did in the late 1800s, fortunately argentina won't go bankrupt again - starbucks will.

bobJan 28, 2004 at 10:44PM

umm, i think this is sort of away from the point, but I actually do have a fear of starbucks. it's all the names and sizes, mocha-frappa-chilled-chi-things. i look at the menu and it just starts to blur. it's crazy.

philJan 28, 2004 at 11:46PM

tonight in starbucks i saw something new that would help you bob, it is a little book that teaches you how to order, and what custom things you can do, with a little coupon so you can try something out for free.

JoergJan 29, 2004 at 9:45AM

What is so great about uniformity anyway? It's so unnatural.

It's great, though, that through all the options, Starbucks can tailor make a coffee just right for you as an individual. Except you're still the sucker standing in Starbucks.

ernieJan 29, 2004 at 11:53AM

I would buy a couch from starbucks.

padraiginJan 29, 2004 at 12:05PM

mroy: You must live in a place where you can still get cool looking, decent furniture at thrift stores. I used to live in a place like that, and it was nice. I had cool stuff over the years. Now I live in a place where if a forty-year-old couch hasn't been (noticeably) peed on many times, it gets tagged "antique" and priced at $2500. Anything from the 50s and 60s is usually far beyond my reach, and we have a couple dollars in the bank. And what gets left on street corners is sometimes cool, but juuuuuust a little spotty, selection wise. I can only rent a van and head home to rape my hometown for furniture so often.

So you enjoy your principles, and I will enjoy not sitting on milk crates at the age of thirty.

mroyJan 29, 2004 at 6:28PM

padraigin: if you live in a major metropolitan area, you shouldn't have to go to your home town to raid used furniture stores. in every city there are plenty of bad neighborhoods most urban hipsters would never be caught dead in. if you are in sf - el Cerrito, if la - bakersfield, if nyc - most of new jersey. by the way, milk crates were my bedside tables, until i welded some up. Sheet metal is CHEAP. if you can fabricate - call some friends and make some crazy custom stuff - mine have fins like a cadillac. if you cannot make anything well i understand, not many people in america make, or want to make, tangible things anymore -sniff, sniff.

hey, you could always find some one who does, and trade them web design services! barter the greatest currency in existence! that would require you getting off your ikea bound stjärt though ;-)

padraiginJan 29, 2004 at 7:49PM

mroy: You clearly have NOT seen my website. I can just imagine the crappy furniture those skills would earn me.

mroyJan 30, 2004 at 12:06AM

padraigin: true nuff said. good luck with olivia and that book, your plate is full. learning to weld is clearly not now, or probably ever, a possibility. check out alameda and el cerrito for used furniture though if you are interested. i would not recommend the over priced crap in oaktown, berkeley, rockridge, orinda, danville etc. but you probably knew that.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.