Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Key is in Being Legendary

February 14 a memo was sent from Howard Schultz to the executve team of Starbucks lamenting the "commoditization of the Starbucks experience". This memo was leaked from one of my favorite blogs, Starbucks Gossip, on February 23. The response to this memo has been staggering, both in the blogosphere and in traditional media.

In fact, a blog conversation has been taking place over at Brand Autopsy and Idea Sandbox, two blogs written by two friends who happen to be former Starbuck's marketers. In their series of posts, each responds to a particular part of the memo offering real solutions to bring value back to the Starbucks brand. Then other responds to that post and the memo also offering real solutions.

What I find to be most interesting is this post on the "Loss of Theatre", where John of Brand Autopsy laments the loss of stage presence and entertainment. He says, "Forget the expeditor/floater on the labor deployment chart. Baristas behind the bar need to call down the line to take orders. They need to take charge. They need to initiate conversation with every customer. They must command stage presence."

I wholeheartedly agree. Back when I worked at Starbucks, the first thing anyone asked me when they found out I was a partner (besides, can you get me free coffee?) was "Is it as much fun to work there as it looks like?" My answer was always yes. The first part of my tenure at my store in Boston was a lot of fun. This was due to many reasons. 1. The managers and partners were fun to work with. 2. While reaching goals and adhering to Starbucks standards was enforced, we were allowed to have fun on the floor. 3. We interacted with our customers. I worked at the busiest store in Boston. And it was the responsibility of the person in the Bar 1 position to call the line if he/she had the capability of doing so. This wasn't always possible, but I found through practice that if Bar 1 is able to call the line, it made the rushes go smoother and faster, we had more interaction with the customers, and activity on the floor was not as stressful or hurried while still delivering drinks in a timely manner. In addition to Bar 1 calling the line, we used the floater position which was filled by whomever was currently running the shift. This person grabbed drip coffee, hot tea and pastries for the partners on register. Also, he/she would grab ice, milk, brew ice coffee or whatever other small tasks would help the partners on bar. We were a well-oiled machine, and we were happy doing it despite the stress of the long rushes. We'd sing, we'd laugh, we'd joke throughout slow and busy times.

The night before a mid-shift, I had gone to the Aerosmith concert. I had gotten home late and didn't get much sleep, but I managed to drag myself out of bed and go to work. I didn't perform with my usual "stage presence" and a customer actually made a comment about it to my manager. Not to blow my own horn but...She told her that I always seemed to be having fun singing and laughing and that she really enjoyed coming in to our store in the mornings. (In fact this was the same shift during which I was forever coined Becky Mochaface, but that's another story.) Customers do notice when baristas are having fun and those that can add a little entertainment or stage presence are being legendary - remember that term from your Starbucks class? Being legendary is how Starbucks has become the giant of a brand it is, it is how Starbucks has managed to grow to 15,000 stores. Being legendary is what needs to continue/happen in order for Starbucks to continue and not be "disrupted" by other brands stealing market share.

This post is dedicated to my second manager from Boston, Brian. (For the life of me, I can't remember Brian's last name, but it's probably just as well.) Brian came to our store - Boylston & Berkeley in Boston - and the dynamic completely changed. He insisted on the expeditor/floater position, we were no longer allowed to call the line. Customers and partners viewed him as fake and our store sales dropped and we could no longer pride ourselves on being the busiest store in Boston. I can't say he's completely at fault for the significant drop in sales and morale at that store as there are too many factors to count, but he certainly had a considerable role in it.

Brian - if this somehow finds you - this post is what I should have said to you, but by the time I realized it and was able to verbalize it, I didn't care anymore, and I was moving back to Texas.

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