–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications
An upscale little bistro/bakery with two Boston-area locations serves terrific pastries and lunches. The ambiance is delightful, the service is good; and the waitstaff nicely uniformed. All in all, an enjoyably classic “sidewalk café” experience.
In the blink of an eye, that all changed for me recently. An item in the Boston Globe noted that a national chain had bought a majority share in the business. In that moment, it went from being a cool local joint to a cog in a big wheel.
Now I have nothing against the bigger company. In fact, I’m an occasional customer there, and have never had a complaint about the food or the service.
Nevertheless, to my mind, the bistro/bakery just flipped from being an entrepreneur’s genuine small-business dream to being a gimmick. It’s quite possible that nothing may change—though I doubt that—and I may be accused of being a shallow snob. But I’m betting that you’ll see this brand start to pop up all over.
And as it does, those chain-made pastries won’t taste quite so sweet to me.
I’ve noticed the same type of response in others when this sort of thing happens. Craft beer and organic packaged foods are two examples. In both cases, I’ve heard identical reactions to the news that they’d been acquired by national/international conglomerates: “Arghhh. Well, that’s it for them as far as I’m concerned.”
Musicians suffer similar slings and arrows, accused of selling out if their tunes become soundtracks to ads.
Other businesses—software development, for example—typically don’t trigger the same reaction. It’s a given that those folks are in it precisely to make something of value that they can then sell for big bucks before moving on to their next big idea.
But the arts, including comestibles, are different.
Part of this, and perhaps the biggest part, is that people who gravitate toward start-ups, small businesses, and “discovered” gems of limited availability find value and personal satisfaction in helping people who are just like us, except that they had the vision and the drive to do the hard work of getting the thing off the ground.
Supporting them feels like you’re personally contributing to the success of something that you value. However ephemeral that connection might be, it’s lost the moment the entity gets sucked up into the borg.
There’s no logic to any of this. But then, logic isn’t where this kind of brand affinity lives; emotion is.