Wednesday, 17 August 2011

How Starbucks make the Bigbucks

November 2010 - January 2011

This post is about working for Starbucks, judging them, learning to love coffee and working out to what extent I need coffee to have a successful tea room business in 2011/12. Here is the next instalment in my journey.

The chances are that you are reading this segment of my tea room journey, while drinking a lovely hot beverage. I can confidently make this statement because 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day and with the Worlds population currently estimated at 6.94 billion, that's a lot of coffee!*. As I haven't drunk my quota for the past decade and quite a few people on the globe don't own kettles I feel quite confident that you people out there must be guzzling coffee all day.

Coffee to me is a mystery. Like many people who work in offices I started drinking coffee because everyone else did and it was part of my induction alongside how to operate the photocopier. Unlike most people though my day became shaped by the effects of my morning cuppa, which looked something like this;

9am (9.15am ish) - Arrive at desk log on, emails etc
9.30am - Morning Coffee
11am - Caffeine driven productivity madness ensues
1pm - Lunch
2pm - Afternoon energy crash begins
3pm - Dangerously bored and sleepy now, best to just have another coffee
4pm - Caffeine mania returns productivity goes through the roof
5pm - Final end of day crash, the last 30 minutes drag...
6pm - Pass out

Suffice to say that I stopped drinking coffee in 2006, no real surprise that this is also the year that my career really started moving forward at a pace.

So hopefully the more observant among you will have spotted my dilemma. If not, well then let me make it very clear. I am opening a tea room; a fabulous provider of stunning loose leaf teas from around the globe. However many many billions of you drink coffee and will expect coffee. So as a business man, there is actually no dilemma. A lot of people will want tea, coffee and will be willing to part with their money.

You could say that I have a coffee blind spot. This is actually one of my worse personality traits, if I don't understand/like/find interest in something I will ignore it. However, I can clearly no longer avoid coffee. It is time to make amends with the money making black stuff. I need to understand it fully so that I can make informed strategic decisions on how best to generate revenue while finding out how I can integrate it into my tea room vision.

At about this time (Nov 2010) it had become clear that I needed to get some part time work. To recap I left my full time job in August 2010 and by November I was in need of filling my time with a distraction as the Old Coach House project ticked along with a February schedule for opening.

Back to the Floor - Starbucks

This leads me to the point of this update as I continue to bring you up to speed with the developments of my tea room project.

I walked into the Cardiff Bay Starbucks around mid November 2010 to get myself a part time job and met the LOVELY assistant manager Helen who gave me the appropriate forms and confidence that I had made the right decision in picking this store.

Before I tell you about my experience there I have to add the following provisos;

  • The content of this blog is purely my own opinion based on my time working for the 'Bucks
  • Any comment I make is without prejudice and I hope nicely balanced
  • The people that I worked with were great and work blooming hard
  • Everything I discuss here is readily available online or in the public domain

Working for the big 'Bucks

Despite my coffee free life, I walk around with a Starbucks card in my wallet loaded with credit. Mainly due to the prolific number of outlets in the UK, their often free parking and free wifi and my life as a sales person travelling the country this little card was a must. Besides which I figured who else knows more about coffee? The store I chose happened to be a great choice for my experiment as Cardiff played host in 2008 to Europe's first drive through Starbucks.

This was a busy store, in fact this store was phenomenally busy and proved that us Europeans were absolutely ready to adopt the practice of staying strapped into our cars to get a coffee on the go. Shortly before I joined the CDT (Cardiff Drive Through) store it had become the biggest revenue generator in the region, pipping the City Centre flag ship Queen Street store. I took on a 15 hours a week working pattern which consisted of 3 x 5 hour shifts. I must say I haven't physically worked so hard in years it was a back to the floor experience taking me back a decade to my early days in hotels. This in itself wasn't a surprise, I know that running the tea room will be manual, fast paced and pretty tiring. However taking 18K a week in selling coffee at the CDT shows quite how busy the joint is.

How are they so Busy?

From my time at Starbucks I learnt a phenomenal amount, the easy part was about coffee the rest was about the brand. Starbucks is successful because people believe in the brand. It doesn't take a genius to see that the chipper SB employee who serves you your Latte will use your first name and ask about your day because they're trained to. There also isn't really anything wrong with that, yes you may feel sometimes that it isn't very genuine but almost everyone I worked with actually enjoyed their work and felt that Starbucks cared about them as a 'Partner'. So for me as a soon to be 'independant' retailer I have to give it to the chains, they train their teams well and they train them to make you feel that you are getting a personal service. SB's use the term 'The Third', this is the ambition for your local Starbucks to be the third place between your home and work. A very bold ambition and a very lucrative one too.

My Make-up with Coffee

I lasted with Starbucks through the busy Christmas period, the red aprons, the slightly sickly American Corporate take on the commercialisation of Christmas all the way through to mid January 2011. I am somewhat proud to say the I am officially a trained Barista and I have great pride in being able to not only know the difference between a Cappuccino and a Latte, but I can also make a pretty darn good Flat White too.

So here is my run down of the Top 5 things I will and the Top 5 things I will not be using from my Starbucks experiment in my tea room;

The Good
  • Great coffee is about the entire process, from the best beans, ground fresh and used immediately with milk at the perfect temperature served professionally.
  • There are many types of coffee our there along with many ways of serving it, one pot of filter sat on a hot plate all day won't satisfy the savvy coffee connoisseurs of the UK.
  • Some people actually cannot get going in the morning without caffeine.
  • Customer connection is important whether you are an International Chain or a one man band, but it must be genuine.
  • There is good money to be made in serving great coffee.

The Bad
  • One style of mug cannot possibly suit all, I will need coffee vessels that match my tea room ambience.
  • Whilst it is nice to be busy and make money, people need space, time and service at their table.
  • Fresh food made on site from local ingredients and local suppliers simply cannot be beaten or indeed replicated by the big brands.
  • Mainstream dull popular music. Ick!
  • Corporate colours and brand values have a place, but a place needs to have a soul.

In Summary

Working for Starbucks was eye opening. I wanted to hate the company and despise the corporate experience. This simply wasn't the case in fact I was moved by the amount of community engagement that the boys and girls of these stores get involved in. Yes it may be a PR directive from head office, but the real people who work hard in the store take that idea out to the community and make it real.

I have learnt about coffee, I drank some excellent beverages and tasted for the first time subtle flavours I never thought to find. All of this was a million miles away from my early office experience of a caffeine infused energy roller coaster all from bad instant coffee. I think I can say, I love coffee and my business will be all the better for it.

*NOTE the majority of my figures are sourced from the first page of the relevant Google search results and are therefore potentially, neh probably, entirely inaccurate or at the very least completely misleading. I however have never let the truth get in the way of a good story/or emphasis of my point.


  1. Great post Dave! I love coffe & love SB. Whit loves it even more! Tho since being in America (maonly Hawaii) have realised SB tastes much better in the states. & if you want a tip from me.. my fav. lattees are cinnamon & gingerbread. So please stock the syrups all year round.. they're not just for xmas, they're for life ;) M x

  2. I am not a fan of starbucks coffee, I find it very acidic and a little too strong for me, although I have to say there is nothing more refreshing than a iced blended coffee in the summer, or nothing as christmassy as an eggnog latte.

    Where they win for me is the seasonal menus.

  3. A magical combination is books and coffee! Pity Borders closed down. My favourite is Barns and Nobles in Charlottesvillle, VA with their in-store Starbucks cafe.


I Want to Bake Free on


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...