#133: What Oops! Do Starbucks and Haggen Have in Common?

What Oops! do Starbucks and Haggen Food & Pharmacy have in common? Both companies have recently been in the news for making some very poor decisions that became very public.

Man Wheelchair


Rob Rowen’s son-in-law has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a motorized wheelchair. So you can understand why he is sensitive about able bodied folks using the one handicapped parking place in front of the local Starbucks store in South Tampa, Florida.

Over a period of time, Rob let a few of these folks who violated the handicapped parking law know that they should move their cars and leave the space open for those who really need it. One customer took offense to being called out for breaking the law and complained to the Starbucks store manager. The store manager sent Rob a letter banning him from the store because “he disrupted the business and harassed customers.”

The local Starbucks district manager backed up the store manager’s ban against Rob. A few days later Rob got a letter from Starbucks Corporate banning him from all Starbucks worldwide for life.

Haggen Food & Pharmacy

Haggen Food & Pharmacy is a little chain of grocery stores headquartered in Washington. When Vons/Safeway & Albertsons merged in 2014 the FTC required them to sell off some stores and little Haggen bought 146 of them.

One of the first post-acquisition actions by Haggen was to trim costs. They accomplished that by laying off 700 employees in the acquired stores. Among those who were laid off were 19 developmentally disabled clerks in five California stores. The laid-off employees were given a week’s notice and had to sign a non-compete agreement that bars them from working for a Vons, Safeway, or Albertsons for one-year.

When questioned about the layoffs Haggen’s Pacific Southwest CEO Bill Shaner said,

“To ensure we’re operating as efficiently as possible, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily cut back on staffing at our stores, with specific reductions varying by store. We value the contributions these employees have made and are committed to treating all employees respectfully and professionally through this transition.”

Personally, I can think of better ways to demonstrate to employees and the community that you value the contributions of your employees than to terminate their employment.


The result in both cases was easy to predict. The news about Starbucks and Haggen went viral on social media.

In Starbuck’s case, Mr. Rowen was contacted by and met with Starbuck’s VP & General Manager Pablo Arizmendi-Kalb. Mr. Kalb admitted that Starbucks had made an error in banning Mr. Rowen for life. Starbucks lifted the global lifetime ban against Mr. Rowen and said they would try to educate local store staff.

Who knows what Mr. Kalb means by “educate the staff”, but the word “local” certainly implies that Starbucks Corporate does not see this as a big enough issue to provide store training beyond this local store.

The Haggen case strikes a nerve with me because our son, Justin, is developmentally disabled. Do you want to get mauled by a bear? Stand between a momma bear and her cub. No difference here. My wife shops at a local Ralphs and looks for the check-stand where “Becky” is working. Becky is developmentally disabled. When the local Ralphs closed they didn’t layoff Becky they transferred her to another store in the neighborhood.

What the folks at Haggen may have overlooked is that in addition to providing employment to the disabled, they are providing a service to the community. It is a service that means a lot to the customers they hope will be loyal shoppers.

A Lack of Judgement

Both cases illustrate a lack of judgment.

The Starbucks store manager could certainly have been more sensitive to the handicapped parking situation, and to Mr. Rowen’s concerns. The Starbucks district manager backed up his store manager but escalated the situation to corporate instead of de-escalating the situation. Starbucks Corporate escalated again.

Did anyone stop to examine the situation to see if just maybe there was a better way to handle this?

Solomon writes, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). That Hebrew word for “gentle answer” is used to describe someone with a tender heart, someone who is soothing.

Had the Starbucks folks stopped to consider Mr. Rowen’s position, they might have come up with a solution that was “soothing” for everyone.

The folks at Haggen may have indeed needed to cut costs. That happens frequently in mergers and acquisitions. But really, is laying off 19 developmentally disabled part-time workers going to help your bottom line? Or maybe, just maybe, there was a better way to meet the profit goals.

Perhaps a forward thinking executive might have realized that building relationships with the community they were hoping to serve would be a good way to build sales.

Solomon writes, “If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure” (Proverbs 29:14). In other words, leaders who show respect and caring for the less fortunate are strong, effective leaders. Sadly, both the Starbucks and Haggen executives missed an opportunity to show leadership and provide an example to their employees and the communities they serve.

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What do you think? Were either Starbucks or Haggen right in what they did? If not, what do you think they should have done in these situations?

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Category: Personal Development | Humility



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