What do you do when you're a retailer and you're faced with a customer more interested in making political points than buying products? If you're Starbucks, you try to find a middle ground, which quickly gets turned against you by zealots from both sides who equate compromise with failure.
While waiting for a plane on Thursday, I witnessed a couple of men get loud over a Fox News report that seemed to suggest — despite a statement to the contrary by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz — that the chain had banned individuals carrying guns from bringing their firearms into its stores.
In reality, Starbucks has not banned weapons. It simply asked those who typically carried firearms to please refrain from doing so in its stores because the practices made other customers feel uneasy.
In an open letter to customers, Starbucks' CEO wrote that the company has always respected "open carry" laws, but the debate has "become increasingly uncivil and, in some cases, even threatening."
He added, "Pro-gun activists have used our stores as a political stage for media events misleadingly called 'Starbucks Appreciation Days' that disingenuously portray Starbucks as a champion of open carry. To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores. Some anti-gun activists have also played a role in ratcheting up the rhetoric and friction, including soliciting and confronting our customers and partners."
What grade would you give Starbucks for its handling of the "open carry" debate?