Supporters of “marriage equality” are celebrating the so-called smackdown of anti-gay marriage investors at the recent Starbucks Corporation annual meeting. According to LGBTQNation, shareholder Tom Strobhar suggested that Starbucks’ disappointing first quarter earnings report reflect the results of a boycott by consumers who object to Starbucks’ public support for changing the definition of marriage in the US. After pointing out that this policy was not about the bottom line but about respecting diversity, CEO Howard Schultz replied, “If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company. Thank you very much.” According to the article, his statement was met with loud applause from the audience.
“How shocking!” I thought when I read that. How could a CEO of a major company be so stupid? I guess I know where I won’t be buying coffee anytime soon! Considering the divisiveness of this issue and the fact that our country is split almost half and half in their opinions about gay marriage (depending on which poll you listen to), why would the CEO of a major company choose to alienate half or more of his potential customers? Did he really tell half the country, as this writer and others claim, “We don’t want your business?”
Well, probably not. First of all, Mr. Schultz is a businessman with the responsibility of insuring the health and maximizing the profits of his company. Secondly, as there often is, there is more to this story. Mr. Strobhar is no ordinary shareholder. He is the founder of The Corporate Action Morality Center, an organization that addresses “the great ethical issues of our day, especially as they apply to one of the most influential groups in our culture, corporations.” Its mission is to keep people informed about the involvement of corporations in issues like abortion, gay marriage, and pornography. According to their website, this organization has challenged some of the world’s largest corporations, including the largest investor of Catholic funds, on their ownership of companies that sell offensive pornographic materials. This is what Mr. Strobhar does, challenge corporations on their involvement in leftist political activism. Mr. Schultz knows that and is probably quite willing to offend Mr. Strobhar while also energizing his base.
Remember the Chick-fil-A hoopla last year? Dan Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil-A acknowledged the corporation’s support of traditional marriage and made the politically incorrect statement, “As it relates to society in general, I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try to redefine what marriage is all about.” Gay marriage supporters took offense; traditionalists and Chick-fil-A supporters declared a “buycott” and the rest is history. Mr. Schultz can only hope that his supporters will be as enthusiastic and give Starbucks a similar boost. Chick-fil-a’s profits were up in 2012 and they opened 96 new stores.
Taking such a stand is not a bad thing, according to Forbes.com. Forbes suggests that companies cannot please everyone and, if they focus on their target base, choosing sides on a controversial issue will give them free publicity, strengthen their position in the market, and increase profits. Mr. Schultz knows his base, and he knows that by supporting gay marriage, he is likely to please those who are most likely to patronize Starbucks. His so-called smackdown of Mr. Strobhar is good theater and likely to increase the loyalty of Starbucks’ supporters.
So, what should we, as consumers, do? I know many traditionalists will choose to boycott Starbucks for taking a public stand and for funding the campaign to change the definition of marriage, just as supporters of gay marriage boycotted and probably still boycott Chick-fil-a. I probably won’t frequent Starbucks, but not for that reason. The large doses of caffeine and sugar in my favorite concoctions put me off, not to mention the matching price. And if I am going to boycott Starbucks for supporting gay marriage, then what about Microsoft? Nike? Amazon? (eek!) The list is pretty long.
I used to support boycotts, but I learned a long time ago that if I boycotted every company that did something I did not like, I would not have many places to shop. I am more likely to “buycott,” that is, support those companies that share my values, particularly companies that are unashamedly Christian. I have to admit that I like eating at Chick-Fil-A and shopping at Hobby Lobby. I like the Christian music I hear playing at Hobby Lobby and I love the fact that both of them are closed on Sundays (except when I want a Chick-fil-A sandwich or something from Hobby Lobby on a Sunday!) However, I will be the first to say that if they did not provide a good product and good service, I would shop somewhere else.
The main thing I think consumers should do is to recognize that companies are concerned with the bottom line. If a company serves you well, support them. If you can’t live with how they spend their profits, don’t support them. But understand, a smackdown isn’t always a smackdown, and the old adage, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” is very true in our current political and commercial climate. The latest outrage or controversy may be nothing more than a clever way to get our attention and get us talking about (and hopefully buying) their product!