This post is one in a series on prominent company nicknames. See all 25, and share your thoughts and memories about Four Bucks below in the comments.
As big multinational corporations go, Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) had such possibility. Rooted in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, born of grunge rock and a commitment to really good coffee and a distinct sense of place, embracing the centuries-old European coffeehouse tradition with its literary name, Starbucks, Captain Ahab's first mate in Moby Dick. The company's founders were all about the beans, buying them directly from growers in Africa and Central America and roasting the beans themselves.
It was entrepreneurial upstart Howard Schultz who conceived of the strategy of making espressos, coffees, and lattes in the coffee shops and selling them for big profit margins. And in the 1980s, milk was cheap and coffee was cheaper. I like to imagine that, as the company's founders sat around a cafe table in Seattle's Pike Place Market, drinking their mellow brew and listening to Schultz's wild ideas, the others scoffed at the concept of someone paying upwards of three dollars for a latte.
Schultz's wild ideas became wilder still as Starbucks quickly expanded and popularized the addition of sticky-sweet flavored syrups in coffee drinks. With the additions came upcharges and soon just about every beverage could be configured so it would cost over $4.00. My drink of choice in the late 1990s, a grande caramel latte with whipped cream, would just skim under the $4.00 mark and the rest was tip. By the late '90s, Starbucks was everywhere and "Four Bucks" became one of the favorite nicknames (along with the more insulting "Starsucks" and, well, you know). As a trend marketing specialist said in a USA Today article, "We live in a society where people think $5 is $1 because of Starbucks" and the company's confusing sizes (tall = small?).
So does that mean the moniker should be One Buck? Five Bucks? Either way, with declining same-store sales and the constant search for just the right complementary product mix, it's obvious the company would rather the average customer ticket be more like 12 bucks. In the future of coffee, Four Bucks may be a screaming good deal.