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Monday, May 19, 2008


It doesn't take a Master's degree from an upper-class business school to know the simple fact that sex sells. It's practically an age-old mantra of "if you make it sexy, they will come" - usually referring to females on the sexy side and males as the prospective clients trying to be driven in. And it's not just about selling products; some groups try to use sex to sell their ideology. PETA, for example, has been exploiting this tactic by having females wear very little or going fully nude during protests in order to lure in new followers (and new donors).

In Snohomish County, Washington, you'll find a large number of drive-through espresso/coffee stands. But if you see a coffee stand featuring scantily-clad baristas, you might be at Grab 'N' Go Espresso on Highway 99. Owner Bill Wheeler decided to bring a little bit of Las Vegas to his Washington company last year, and business has been booming for him. He plans on expanding to a dozen stands in Washington as well as Nevada, including one location hiring male baristas in Speedos and bowties, possibly imitating the fashion of the famous Chippendale's dancers.

Of course, for every sexy action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Among the complainers is Kimberly Gainza, who says, "I'm not against people making money. What I'm against is how they're going about doing it. It's not right -- on a road where everybody can see."

The law of the land says that as long as nipples and genitals are covered, there are no public indecency laws being broken. Health officials and state Labor and Industries officials say there are no clothing requirements for baristas, so there's no argument there either. Of course, this means that the complaining parties are trying to take these issues to the government in attempts to further regulate the industry and shut down the sexy espresso-pushers.

Obviously, another group of nay-sayers is comprised of rival coffee businesses. Tina Taylor, who has owned Giddy Up 'N' Go Espresso for eight years, says that her traffic to her business is clearly dipping. While at times her stand doesn't see a single customer in over a hour's time, rival sexy-stands always have cars lined up and ready for business. Ruth Oliver, who has owned R & R Espresso in Bothell for 17 years, said that she'd rather close her business down than turn it into a "strip club" just because of the popular trend.

(To be fair, at strip clubs you have to wait until they remove clothing - at these places, what you see upon entry is all you're going to get.)

And of course, just as these businesses are using sex to sell more coffee, other businesses are trying to profit from the clash without resorting to those tactics. They are using signs like "We Make it Hot with our Tops On," "R-rated Coffee; PG-rated Girls" and "Known 4 Coffee Not Cleavage!" to lure customers their way.

Others are just snippy. Sara Barnfather, 22, a barista with Stars and Stripes Espresso, says she's "proud to be classy, not trashy. If you like nipples and third-degree burns, go for it. But it's not my cup of tea."

And not surprisingly, a lot of male customers DO like nipples. A barista at one of these sexy-espresso stands claims that after working there for three months, she's been making twice the tips that she used to make at another coffee chain store. Baristas at these sexy espresso stands say they consistently fetch more than $100 a day in tips.

Meanwhile, the other coffee stands are slowly understanding that in this particular market and location, there's a real "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" type of atmosphere.

John Ferguson, who owns an espresso stand in Edmonds, said the combination of corporate outlets and bikini stands along the Highway 99 corridor forced him three months to adopt a "sexy espresso" theme or go out of business.

"We saw our male clientele dwindle to next to nothing," he said.

Carrie Smith, owner of the Mocha Boat in Lynnwood, said she switched themes six months ago after a competing stand hired young women to stand on the corner with pasties and tight shorts.

Business tripled after her employees started wearing more revealing outfits, she said.

"We had to close the stand or roll with it," Smith said.

While there have been a few reports of inappropriate comments made to the girls working the sexy espresso stands, the baristas agree that this can happen anywhere and it's not much more often than working elsewhere.

From the chain that probably started the trend as a whole, Hooters, there has been clear evidence that business has been thriving in spite of any critics who seem to take offense.

Frankly, I don't drink coffee. But I bet they'd make a mean cup of hot cocoa all the same, and I'm probably not the only guy out there who'll admit that it's okay to sacrifice a little bit of quality if it's being served by a team of scantily-clad female baristas.

After all, sex sells.

What do you think? Is this a trend of sexiness that's just expanding to new markets? Do you side with the businesses who are raking in the profits, or the businesses that refuse to "exploit" their employees and thereby are NOT raking in the profits? Would you buy a "sexpresso"?

(The 'sexpresso' article)


Anonymous said...

Sex does sell, but I would never go to one. Teenagers are going through those stands just to see the women who wear things and pasties because they're too young to get into strip clubs. The windows are big and expose the almost naked women to anyone driving or walking by, including children. People have driven through those stands with kids in the car and they don't care because who drives through isn't regulated. I'm not saying it's wrong because guys can easily see almost naked women. I think it's wrong because kids can, teenagers can, people who are trying not to look have it right there if they just drive by it.

Anonymous said...

*thongs, not things

Anonymous said...

The reason the women at those stands aren't getting harassed much is because the people who are getting offended have high class ethics. It's not because people aren't outraged.