Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cowgirls and Empire

Despite living in the Seattle region, I'm not a coffee drinker. I prefer tea, and have done so since long before Jean-Luc Picard radically nerdized my favorite brew by ordering "Earl Grey, Hot". But despite that, I am aware of the spread of the Cowgirls Espresso chain. Most recently, I've noticed two of the espresso shacks on my commute - LP's down on Park Place and The Boulevard Bean near Gene Coulon Park, have suddenly undergone a rename and a repaint, boasting now the black and white Holstein marks of the Cowgirls line.

Drive-through espresso joints are relatively ubiquitous out here - they are relatively small, and can be fit on odd-shaped chunks of land and in the middle of parking lots. They are pretty much local operations, lurking like mammals in the shadow of the Starbucks brand, which occupies more pricey real estate. They also don't require much in the way of training, supplies, or oversight.

The drive-through joints make their goal speed and convenience, are relatively low-cost, and as such have popped up everywhere in the same manner (and for the same reasons) as all those photo huts back in the 70s (and some are on the same sites and in the same buildings). So we see an explosion of corporate organisms into the various niches. And now we see the more organized and successful ones consuming the less-successful ones. Corporate nature, red in ink and claw.

So why is Cowgirls taking over other former independents? Well, it looks like they are taking the "Hooters" approach - a perfectly serviceable product is made more enticing when provided by attractive young women in scanty outfits. Yep, Cowgirls has combined a dramatic exterior (the black and white buildings) with the sexy baristas. And on "fantasy fridays" they have sexy nurses or naughty schoolgirls (or so declare their signs).

And while it is probably wrong to ascribe Darwinian principles to social and economic models (others have done so, with predictably miserable results), the encroaching corporatized sensuality pushed by Cowgirls has allowed it to succeed and thereby expand its niche of corporate evolution. It will be interesting to see if this adaptation fuels future expansion, or if some other trait (corporate organization, or franchising, or local laws) will intercede and place other limitations on its growth.

But I'll leave further research on the matter to others. The idea of driving about with hot liquid between my thighs just leaves me cold, if you pardon the mixed metaphor.

More later,