At first, he sounds like a nut, albeit an ambitious one. You may have heard of the nomadic computer programmer who goes by the name of Winter. According to news accounts and his website, www.starbuckseverywhere.net, this 33-year-old's life goal is to visit every single Starbucks on the face of the earth. So far, he has been to more than 4,958 in North America and over 200 everywhere else. He calls himself a Starbucks enthusiast. Others might call him obsessed, even a business stalker.
There are more of these people out there than you might think. Last year, Richard Bunn, an 80-year-old Welshman, finished a 15-year odyssey, traveling to all Great Britain's 265 ASDA supermarkets (now owned by Wal-Mart). The Boston Beer Co., which brews Samuel Adams Boston Lager, likes to brag about a New Hampshire man named Pete who has toured their brewery over 100 times. On a smaller scale, Doug Gates, 35, reports that his year-old Boston store, Showroom, draws "furniture groupies." His business not only pulls in $1.75 million a year, it's also attracting customers who come to hang out and talk about furniture.
Raving fans like these are your dream customers, but what if one turns into a nightmare? Quickly conclude that the customer isn't always right, says Janelle Barlow, president of TMI, U.S., an HR consulting firm in Las Vegas, and co-author of Emotional Value: Creating Strong Bonds With Your Customers. "You need to protect yourself, your reputation and your business," says Barlow.
Otherwise, consider business stalkers a blessing--and realize they're enjoying perks, too. Pete was once invited to Boston Beer's brewery after-hours. And the world's most fervent Starbucks fan may soon find fame and fortune--he's being shadowed by a film director for an upcoming documentary.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.