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Grappling with Customer Guilt

Every morning on my way to work I encounter a treat in the form of a boxy orange truck (a former Con Edison truck converted into a "gourmet coffee" truck) parked in front of the 6 train. With my favorite Stones or Steve Wonder song blaring out of the speakers hinged to its roof and friendly neighborhood hipsters who know my name manning the window, the Mud Truck. has been my ultimate caffeinated customer experience for the past three years.

That is, until a few weeks ago when I discovered that the Starbucks around the corner would gladly make my light-ice-light-water-iced-americano at a third less the price.

So now I'm ridden with customer guilt. In the old days I would lightly skip over to the subway, smiling and waving my hellos at Muddy servers. Now I quickly tiptoe by with my head down, hoping they don't catch a glimpse of the green signature Starbucks straw sitting in my drink.

On one hand I feel justified in my action: why shouldn't customers patron the establishment where they can get a better customized (sorry Mud!) drink at a cheaper price? But at the same time I am disappointed in myself. I love that Greg Northrop and his wife Nina Berott opened their mobile shop because they didn't want to leave their newborn daughter home while they were off at work and miss out on her childhood. I love that they created an early-hour subculture, a consistent dose of morning sunshine. And I love that they had the guts to do it smack in between two Starbucks. But do I love it enough to spend an extra dollar a day (over $250 a year) sipping a drink that just isnt as good?

Where should our customer loyalty lie?

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  • mudman

    who paid you to post this?? i wasn't even serving iced coffee in april!! ..what the freak is a "my light-ice-light-water-iced-americano at a third less the price" anyway?? you don"t have to hide, enjoy your starbucks..greg

  • nina

    hey danielle,
    this is the mudtruck...all our drinks are of higher quality and lower in price compared to the green monster on every street corner...that's our strategy...but maybe you just like their stuff better...mudlove,
    nin - mudmama

  • Kevin Leversee

    The question comes to what you are really paying for, the coffee or the experience, perhaps both? As with almost every food or drink service, some places have a quirk or atmosphere, the others have good cheap food or drinks. The true value over time may not be the $250 you save a year, rather the experience and prosperity mindset that these MUD TRUCK people have versus the Starbucks. I find most coffee chains have tired hung over students who couldn’t really care. Ask me I’ll take personal service with a little price increase and maybe even less quality for the joy of a true human interaction.

    Good article.


  • david

    You bring up an interesting point - how much are we willing to pay to be 'socially responsible' consumers.

    I admire 'the mud truck's' owners for arranging their work life around the need to spend time with their newborn - something my wife and I have strived to do. It isn't easy, trust me.

    On the other hand, if the coffee is cheaper and better elsewhere....

    I don't have the answer.

  • Michael Emmert

    I agree with Victor, somewhere the mud truck will have to give a little maybe not enough to meet or beat Starbucks price but something you can live with and fulfill your desire to help the little guy. Personally I think local business should be supported as much as possible but only to a point, when it becomes charity i'd rather take the tax deduction.

  • Philip Reichert

    I think it is arrogant to think that somebody needs to do the same thing day-in day-out for years on end. Customers go through phases where they will shop at one place for a while and then move on. There is only so long you can enjoy any 'consumer experience' before your get desensitised to it and the enjoyment fades.

    If you the activist type then leave feedback. Otherwise just move on.

  • victor

    Although it might be awkward, you could assuage your guilt by giving Mud some feedback. They might be very grateful and maybe even lower their price.

  • Kelleen Stine-Cheyne

    You've talked a lot about values. You should weigh your actions by your own, personal, core values. Does your behavior fit with your values? If not, then change your behavior or perhaps you are not completely authentic about your values!

    Of course, you could buy your own machine and make it at home!

    Thanks for this week!