Why is Starbucks' Howard Schultz Really Taking a Stand on Guns?

Why is Starbucks' Howard Schultz Really Taking a Stand on Guns?

Starbucks and its famous green mermaid has been on top of the coffee house world for over 20 years. It was arguably Starbucks who began the latte craze, who made it acceptable to charge $4 for a cup of coffee and brought back the idea of the coffee house as a hip hangout. It was perhaps the overwhelming success of this king of espresso, too, that influenced Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, 7-11 and just about every coffee shop, big or small, to include on their menus specialty coffee concoctions of all flavors, shapes, and sizes. Now, however, the multibillion-dollar firm has hit the headlines for a reason that’s more to do with the Second Amendment than its signature beverage.

In a video released last week, Howard Schultz, CEO of this cash cow, made the following statement: “Starbucks Coffee Company is not a policy maker, and we are not pro-gun or anti-gun, but we do believe that guns and weapons should not be part of the Starbucks experience…We are respectfully asking our customers who are carrying a gun not to bring them inside Starbucks stores.”

This may be one of the smoothest and least offensive political statements ever made in the history of political statements. In one breath, Schultz was able to address every player in the debate while at the same time not actually taking any type of a firm stand on the issue whatsoever. According to the CEO, guns “should not be part of the Starbucks experience.” At the same time, however, referring to gun owners bringing in their handy 9mm, he states, “If in fact they choose to, I do not want any partner, any manager, any shift supervisor, anyone wearing the green apron, to confront that customer and either ask them to leave or make them uncomfortable”. So can they or can’t they bring their guns in, Howard?

Howard Schultz is not allergic to the media, and has made more than his fair share of controversial statements on issues. So why then is the CEO not taking a definitive stand on guns as he has with other hot button issues such as same-sex marriage and the self-interest of politicians in Washington D.C.?

Starbucks in Washington DCImage: Elvert Barnes

This flip-flopping over the issue may not be as vague as it first seems. Schultz is about running a successful and very profitable company that is open and respectful to both employees and customers regardless of who they are. This (albeit somewhat toothless) statement on guns is an example of just that, as is his support for the institution of same-sex marriage. However, Jena McGregor of The Washington Post sees it differently, and she has a point. In an article for the publication back in March, McGregor states, “Schultz’s support of same-sex marriage is very much about dollars and cents — or at least about brand value and employee retention, which both affect the bottom line.”

Howard Shultz understands that it is a wiser business decision to support same-sex marriage as more and more states are legalizing this new institution. If he were to come out against it, he stands a chance of alienating a base of potential customers that is growing larger by the year. McGregor continues, “For many big companies, the fear of losing out on talented employees or loyal customers who support gay rights is even greater than the fear of losing out on the dwindling number of those who don’t.”

The same may be said for his stance against waste and self-interest in Washington D.C. In an August 8, 2011 letter to Starbucks partners, Schultz wrote, “I found myself growing more and more frustrated at the lack of cooperation and irresponsibility among elected officials as they have put partisan agendas before the people’s agenda. This is not the leadership we have come to expect, nor deserve.”

These words seem to show Shultz up as more of a conservative, smaller-government Republican than the bleeding-heart liberal that his same-sex marriage support may suggest, and strengthens the idea that his statements are not so much about a particular political leaning as about a businessman who is concerned about not only the bottom line of his company, but of his government as well. It is also a safe stance business-wise, as the ineffectiveness of government has been a bugbear with the American public for some time – Schultz is essentially preaching to the choir.

So while the whole gun debate is one of passion, tragedy and heartbreak, perhaps those involved should not count on Starbucks or Howard Schultz to side with their agenda – unless it is guaranteed to sell more lattes, that is.