Buying a Franchise

A Franchise Tempest in a Teacup

Or it could be a coffee cup. Or a half-fat one-pump grande pumpkin spice latte cup. In any case, Starbucks has unveiled their 2015 holiday red cup. It’s red, with the green Starbucks logo, and it looks pretty festive.

So a national coffee franchise is serving pumpkin spice lattes in a red cup, weeks before Thanksgiving, and social media is busting out all over with protests. Starbucks, says social media guy Joshua Feuerstein, “wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups.” His video containing this statement has received 12.8 million views, in a matter of days. It has spawned a hashtag, #MerryChristmasStarbucks, and headlines across the US and the UK (where they also have Starbucks) saying that “Christians are offended” by the red cups.

Let’s step back for a minute and look at the claim that Christmas has been removed from the red cups.

In 2009, Starbucks had a red cup with red pine needles and Christmas tree ornaments.  In 2011, the red cup had a snow scene with sleds. 2012 had a snowman. 2014 had stylized red bows on the red background. This year there’s no snow, no bows, and no ornaments, just a red cup with a green logo.

However, Starbucks has always featured things like snow and bows, not Christ or Christmas. Even the ornaments have been stylized shapes saying, “Hope” and “Wish.” Red cups, far from being a religious statement, have been secular seasonal touches at Starbucks, just like pumpkin spice drinks.

Chances are good that you’ve drunk something out of a red cup at a Christmas party without taking offense, regardless of your religious views. Other customers might be just as offended by the red cup as a symbol of Christmas Creep — commercialism pushing the winter holiday right after Halloween and thus cheapening Christmas and dissing Thanksgiving.

And in fact there’s very little evidence that anyone is actually offended by the red cups. Feuerstein himself seems to be the only data point for anti-Starbucks outrage. And he is encouraging people to go buy Starbucks drinks, which is not an effective stand against the franchise.

The real event has been people writing about the largely imaginary controversy.

The best takeaway for someone considering a franchise business investment may be that you can’t predict everything. If, in the 2015 cup design meeting, someone had said, “What if somebody gets offended by the lack of snowflakes, creates a viral video, and spawns millions of dollars in free publicity? How would that affect the franchisees?” they’d probably have been met with a blank stare.

Think of all the what-ifs you can when you’re deciding which franchise to invest in, take time for risk assessment, but don’t think that you know everything that can or will happen. Some things will surprise you, not matter how well prepared you think you are.

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