Whether you run a small business or a multinational business, getting involved in political issues can create difficulties. There are times when it can benefit your business, but when the political issue at hand is one that divides Americans or global citizens, the results are usually bad for business. This morning the media is picking up statements made by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and the story is getting quite a bit of attention.
Guns in Starbucks? What’s All This About?
If you’re at all like me, the gun control debate is interesting, but also an emotionally charged topic that can be hard to discuss in a civil manner. I was surprised and impressed to learn that Starbucks had a policy to default to local gun laws when it came to customers carrying firearms into their stores, as Lisa Baertlein for Reuters explains in her article about this story.
Without getting into a discussion of the merits of gun control or the opposite, Starbucks’ choice seems relatively logical to me. Local laws should be good enough for them if it allows them to continue doing business.
Unfortunately, as Lisa writes, “this led gun-rights advocates to hold a national “Starbucks Appreciation Day” to thank the firm for its stance.” Even though this action appears to be harmless in nature, it brought Starbucks further into the political fight about gun control than it ever hoped to be.
Schultz Does What’s Best for His Business and Employees
So why is Schultz in the headlines today? The Starbucks CEO has written an open letter to customers (and anyone else) stating, as Ray Hennessey reports for Entrepreneur, “we do not want these events in our stores.” Essentially, Schultz “is asking customers to no longer bring guns to the coffee chain.”
As an unfortunate reminder of the state of American politics, the rallies and events mentioned above, and some of the supporters, have become disturbing and bothersome for Starbucks customers. While some could argue that this isn’t a reason, Schultz has also mentioned that his employees have been harassed or confronted, something no business owner or CEO wants to happen.
Schultz is simply doing what makes sense in my opinion. He tried to find a perfectly acceptable middle ground that respected everyone in his previous approach of deferring to local laws. Things didn’t quite work out. This open letter is a chance for him to try to get the company and its employees from being “the center of the fight.”
Businesses Have Rights, Too
One could argue that Schultz made this decision to prevent boycotts or other negative business consequences for his previous decisions about the store and gun laws. I don’t see it that way, but there are certainly business benefits from his request. The fact that he took the time to pen an open letter and explained himself leads me to believe his statements.
As a private retailer he and franchisees can do what they believe is best for their business and employees. His effort to reach compromise with previous rules are a sign (to me at least) that he wanted to find some middle ground where Starbucks could operate, based on local laws. Many other retailers outright ban guns from their establishments yet don’t get nearly the attention that this story is getting.
What do you think about Schultz’s decision? Was it for business or is he sincere?
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