In mid July 2008 Starbucks announced its closure of 600 of its coffee shops. On July 31, 2008 the company reported its first quarterly loss ever, $6.5 million. Despite national efforts to revive the giant company, it continues to struggle in a difficult economy. After reporting its loss, Starbucks blamed the high costs of fuel and less foot traffic in its stores for the downturn in business. Although some folks argue about whether or not less foot traffic in Starbucks had to do with the economy or the rapid expansion of the company combined with excessive costs for extravagant drinks, the fact remains that exotic coffee houses are feeling the pinch of tight money. But is that true in Natchitoches, Louisiana, a small town in North Central Louisiana?
Right on the corner of Natchitoches Front Street and Church sits Johnny’s, a place where visitors and locals hang out to talk about local and world events. College students access the Internet from the hot spot, and folks of every walk of life walk right in, sit right down and join the happy gatherings that take place at every time of day. When other shops on Front Street have wanderers in ones and twos, Johnny’s has twos and threes and then some stopping in regularly.
An inquiry about the coffee shop and how the economy has been affecting it brought good reports. “What downturn?” might have been the answer to the question, “How’s business?” Instead Diana Arnold, one of Johnny’s loyal and long-term employees, reports a brisk business. Judging from the folks coming in and out of the store during the interview, it seems that this coffee shop is doing well in spite of financial difficulties reported by Starbucks, a national coffee shop chain.
What’s the secret of this local success? Location, location, location is certainly part of the equation. Johnny’s is in a front and center spot, right at the corner to catch people going to and fro over one of the main bridges across the river leading to the downtown area. Add to that a known entity in Natchitoches, a name that has been synonymous with excellence for years, since the owner of Johnny’s is also the owner of Merci Beaucoup, the restaurant known for its Cajun baked potato that Oprah Winfrey raved about after she visited Natchitoches several years ago. Then there is price and variety. Whereas Johnny’s has some of the upscale goodies, they aren’t at the upscale prices seen in major cities. So people can afford a cup of coffee that has a little extra flavor and imagination.
Starbucks struggles for a number of reasons that include rapid expansion and assumption that things will exponentially provide increased opportunities and customers rather than a solid, fiscally conservative approach that focuses on steady, positive gains that is the hallmark of good business and the heart of small business America. A page out of the Johnny book might well be read by the big boys in the coffee business because there is no better teacher than success, as they say, and success that continues when times are hard. In Natchitoches Johnny’s coffee continues, and its customers applaud that it does.