You might wonder what Starbucks closing 7,100 stores tonight has to do with personal finance, other than the fact it might save you $4 if you happen to crave a latte this evening. Well, if you own Starbucks stock, you might be optimistic CEO Howard Schultz’s plan to reeducate 135,000 Starbucks employees on “espresso excellence,” among other topics, might reverse the stock’s recent downward spiral.
As a former Starbucks employee, however, I am personally interested in how the company is trying to return to its roots. For the uninitiated, those roots are more than just selling premium coffee and espresso. What made Starbucks so great was the focus the corporation put on being a great place to work.
For me, serving coffee was a much-needed second job. Starbucks helped me pay the rent and reduce my debt when my day-job didn’t quite pay enough. But it was also the most fun I have ever had at work. If money were no issue, I might choose to work there full time. And for thousands of people, Starbucks provides a great full-time job. How many other places in American can you work 20 hours a week and get quality health insurance, a 401k, and even a stock purchase plan?
When I worked there, however, Starbucks was beginning to implement many of the programs that may have contributed to its recent stumble. They opened stores that more closely resembled McDonald’s than cozy European cafes. They built drive-through stores, once a definitive no-no for the company. And they began serving breakfast sandwiches which, among other problems, created longer lines for regular coffee customers.
I’m glad to see Starbucks will be ditching those sandwiches and refocusing on great coffee, great service, and a great environment. Among other changes, free WiFi will now be available at most stores.
I think that if Starbucks can recapture its brand as a place to get a premium cup of coffee from smiling, competent baristas, and as a place to linger for a while with a book, your laptop or friends, it can pull through this slump and remain a great employer, and a great investment.