Starbucks The Way I See It: “Save Our Starbucks”

Starbucks recently announced they will be closing 600 US company-operated stores.  The company said 70% of the cafes slated for closure had opened after the start of 2006. The chief financial officer, Pete Bocian, said that meant Starbucks would close 19% of all US company-operated stores that opened in the past two years.

A funny thing happened on the way to closing these 600 Starbucks locations. Now that the customers closest to the targeted locations (see map) have learned about the impending closure of their local store, many have rallied for the “Save our Starbucks” campaign. They are writing letters, making phone calls and signing petitions begging the company to reconsider the decision.  People have even commented on some of my earlier Starbucks posts, asking the chain to not close their store.

Starbucks’ profits may not be so great right now, but they do have something that many companies can only dream of: Customers who are passionate about their brand.  Yet with their latest cost cutting decision, Starbucks is turning them into passionately unhappy customers.  You see, these folks who are willing to pay $4.00 for a latte on a regular basis, have become quite attached to “their” local Starbucks. Sure there is probably one a few miles away (on across the street, depending on where you are), but to frequent customers, these are not “Their” Starbucks. They have an attachment to the local store. They know the Baristas who make their drink just like they like it (and contrary to Howard Schultz’ direction, consistency isn’t that common).

It’s unfortunate that the necessary cost cutting is coming at the expense of customers, but what else is Starbucks to do?  While I can’t claim to know the facts regarding the financial analysis behind the decision, I might suggest a few alternative cost cutting ideas.

Take a Closer Look at Existing Store Saturation.

When Starbucks announced the closing, the CFO said a Starbucks store’s revenue dropped 25 to 30 % when a new one opened nearby.  There are no closings planned for my city, yet I am amazed by the saturation of Starbucks outlets in my area.  Within three miles of my house, I have no less than ten Starbucks outlets to choose from (including Target, Kroger, & Barnes & Noble locations).  There are two company owned stores and a Barnes & Noble outlet which are literally across the street from each other.  In a move that seems to go against the CFO’s comments, Starbuck’s is building yet another cafe with a drive-thru on the same corner.  This ain’t Manhattan folks.  This is downtown Short Pump, VA; hardly a bustling metropolis, and four Starbucks within walking distance seems a bit unnecessary .

Starbuck’s Card Rewards

I think the incentives-based Starbucks prepaid card is a highly innovative idea to cut operating costs.  Like most retail today, most Starbucks transactions have historically been tendered using a credit card or cash.  Both have expenses (fees and operating overhead).  By getting customers to use prepaid cards, Starbucks lowers their transaction costs and it get more cash into their hands sooner.  That cash can be held in interest-bearing accounts generating income for the company.  In return for customers Registering the cards, Starbucks is offering a number of perks including free WiFi access and free beverage upgrades (syrups, etc).  I think this is where Starbucks may be giving up too much.  My sugar-free vanilla, breve (half & half) latte in Richmond, VA is around $4.00, but when I pay with the Starbucks card, I get the syrup and breve upgrades for free saving me $.70.  That’s more than 20% off.  The way I see it, my profitability as a customer has gone down and my transaction volume has stayed about the same.  Again, I don’t have the financial analysis behind this plan, but instinctively, it seems like they are leaving money on the table.

In retail (and food retail is no different), you normally want to get the customer to upgrade their purchase  (“would you like fries and a drink with that?”. “Have you considered the extended warranty?”).  That’s often where the biggest margin is and the Starbucks upgrades are no exception.  By giving it away it’s like saying the fries and drink are on the house.  It’s really not necessary because you already have me as a regular customer. and I’m going to order the same drink on a regular basis whether you give me the syrup or not.

What are your thoughts?  What alternative cost cutting ideas would you explore if you were Starbucks?

What Not to Do – Food Lion

Food Lion is a regional grocery store chain with stores in the Southeastern US.  I had an “interesting” experience last weekend while making a last minute run to the local Food Lion store for two cans of baked beans, an onion and a green pepper.

I’m in the express checkout line trying to navigate the payment pad when the clerk hands me a pad of preprinted forms and asked me to fill out one explaining why I thought he should be employee of the week.  Seriously!  So all this guy has done is swiped four items (remember this, it gets better) and pushed a button.  Why should he be employee of the week?  What things are being measured to qualify one for this honor?  Still trying to focus on the difference between the “Yes” and the “OK” button on the payment pad, I told him I didn’t know why he should have that title, and he said, “that’s OK, just put it on the form”.  So apparently, collecting the most forms makes you employee of the week.  I guess working the express lane is a advantage in this contest.

Needless to say, I ignored the request.  After I paid, I noticed that he had not put my pepper and onion in the bag and had, in fact, rung them separately thinking they belonged to the person behind me.

I’m pretty sure this program was something that the local management came up with.  I’m sure they had the best intentions: improve performance of the team through competition and improved the quality of the customer experience, but their approach was completely wrong.

This program was focused on the employees, not the customer.  It resulted in the employees being more concerned with scoring points that delivering consistently great experiences.  The “express” checkout line was slowed down as a result and the overall customer experience suffered.  Employee of the week/month programs are fine, as long as they don’t get in the way of what should be the primary objective: taking care of the customer.

I <3 TweetDeck

One of the best things about Twitter is the powerful interface (API) that allows third party applications to be developed,  Since it was introduced in October, 2006, hundreds of Twitter apps, hacks & mashups have been built to extend the product’s functionality.

I have been a regular Twitter user since early 2007 and currently follow close to 800 people, which isn’t that large compared to some other Twitter friends. The big problem for me (and why I don’t follow more people), is that with that much inbound traffic in my Twitter stream, I can easily miss tweets that I would want to see.  It reminds me of that classic scene from I Love Lucy where Lucy and Ethel are have a job wrapping chocolates.

I’ve been thinking that the answer to this problem would be an application which lets me filter my Twitter stream into manageable groups.  I could have one group for “Local People”, one for “Thought Leaders”, one for “Friends in Australia”; you get the idea.  I even started talking to some local developers about building an app like this.

As it turns out, I was not alone thinking stream filters would be a great idea.  Yesterday, I learned about a new Adobe AIR app called TweetDeck that features full integration with Summize, and lets you (wait for it……) create customized groups of those you follow on Twitter.

Authored by Iain Dodsworth, TweetDeck is one of the most useful Twitter apps I’ve seen to date.
It offers four major columns in which to organize Twitter data: “All Tweets”, which is your “with friends” timeline, “Replies”, “Search”, which will keep a running search window open for a term you’ve selected, and “Group”, which lets you make a sub-set of those you follow on Twitter.  You can have multiple groups.

Click for larger image
Click for larger image

The other interesting departure in this app is that it maintains a local database on your computer, so if you wake up in the morning and Twitter is down (a real possibility), you could still look at and reply to tweets “offline”.  TweetDeck stores you offline tweets and submits them to Twitter once the FailWhale goes away.  Now that’s a useful feature and a great workaround for the API limitation that prevents other external clients from seeing older tweets.

TweetDecks is still very much “in Beta” and likely to have a few issues of its own, but the feature set makes it well worth checking out.

Hey Target, This Ain’t Very Appetizing

Target always puts their outdoor living stuff on clearance around the July 4 holiday, so I made a trip to my local store this morning to see what kinds of deals I could find.  This particular store has just been renovated and enlarged to their new format with an expanded grocery section.  While the outdoor living secion was a bit picked over (I guess I’m not the only one who knows about this little secret), my wife and I did manage to run the aisles grabbing interesting looking snacks for the weekend.  Then I same across this shelf:

I guess having rodents in grocery stores is a pretty common thing and that Target is not alone in deploying traps to keep the population down, but I’ve just never noticed them so prominently displayed like this.  Snacks, anyone???