Trademark. Food, clothing, shelter. How do we obtain these basic necessities? For this post, please excuse a moment of self-indulgence, and let’s set aside the real problem of supplying these to world’s poor so that I can address a middle class issue.
If you go most places in the industrialized world, you will be able to eat, shop, and sleep in an establishment that sports a familiar global brand. If you find the ever-present sameness that this model of retailing brings about deadening, is there any way to limit the quality of sameness to only the features for which consistency matters to consumers while leaving business owners free to offer greater individuality in the retail experience?
Here’s an idea. In the franchise model, a trademark is really acting as a certification mark rather than a source identifier. If small business owners were able to establish effective certification marks, they would be able to reap many of the benefits of being a franchisee while enjoying greater freedom to control their operations and to keep a larger share of their profits.
Take coffee as a test case. Like many coffee drinkers I have an ambiguous relationship with Starbucks. On some occasions, I have never been so grateful to get a big cup of strong coffee in a place where it would otherwise have been unavailable. On other occasions, the success of Starbucks’ strategy to crowd out competitors leaves me frustrated that local javantrepreneurs stand little chance to supply good coffee in an ambience that reflects local culture. But I’ll admit to having been burned in some tourist destinations by local coffee shops that dress themselves up as if they care about what they brew only to find that I’m drinking a $3.00 cup of dishwater.
Assume for the moment that there is a sizeable set of coffee drinkers who would prefer to patronize a local coffee shop over Starbucks if they could be assured that the coffee at the local shop meets certain minimum taste standards. If enough of that group lives in a single locale, a small business owner can compete effectively against Starbucks.
But in destinations where travelers would have to be part of the customer base, a small business is likely to fail when competing against the promise of consistency that the Starbucks logo holds out. However, if a local business could display a reliable certification mark, the business would stand a chance. Then, the traveling coffee drinker could enjoy a locally distinctive ambience along with a cup of good coffee.
So for those who decry the Charbucks hegemony, it’s time to think about what an effective certification mark would have to convey and how such a mark could be made reasonably reliable.