Happy Birthday Starbucks

by francine Hardaway on March 9, 2011

Starbucks is 40 years old this week. Most people have not grown up in a world without a Starbucks on every corner. There’s one in Rotorua, New Zealand and many in Beijing. I’ve been to stores all over the world, and had the same grande coffee frappacino.

As a child, we owned a coffeepot (not an espresso maker) and we percolated coffee every morning on the top of the stove. Starbucks changed everything. It was disruptive to the habits of generations of Americans who got up in the morning and put the coffee on, because we began going out for coffee and talking to the people in line in front of and behind us. We struck up friendships with baristas (were there baristas before Starbucks?) and held business meetings there. Howard Schultz told us it was the “third place” after home and the office, and we believed him.

Why? Because he is a master at creating and sustaining a brand. It has very little to do with coffee, which we can still make at home, or buy just about anywhere.

So what defines this iconic brand? A personal vision about building a company and building a community at the same time. We can all take a lesson from Howard Schultz.

At 4 AM this morning, when I woke up to Morning Joe. there was Schultz himself on TV, still the evangelizer for the brand. “Starbucks is celebrating 40 years of great coffee, but we are also honoring four decades of creating individual moments of connection among our valued customers and our store partners, and in the neighborhoods where we do business,” says Schultz in his official birthday press release.

He went on to talk about one of his greatest brand strategies — offering health insurance to every one of his employees, even those who work part time. More than the coffee, which can be mediocre, more than the free wifi, this strategy defines Starbucks’ brand. The company cares.

This isn’t cheap. Health insurance costs Starbucks $250 million a year, more than any other cost besides coffee.

Starbucks provides high quality part time jobs that allow kids to work and go to college, and allow moms to care for their kids. It has a phenomenal training program. One of my foster kids, an 8th grade dropout, went through it and worked as a barista for years. Starbucks taught her how to use a cash register, but it also taught her a work ethic and an attitude toward the customer: she learned how important it is to make people happy in the morning.

Notice I haven’t said anything yet about the new  logo or the week of promotional activities Starbucks has planned. Of course I noticed it this morning as I entered the store: the decal on the front door celebrating 40 years, the display of a special blend of coffee in a special canister for me to buy as I waited in line, and the cups with their new (controversial) Starbucks Siren logo design.

But the brand is not about any of those. Instead, it’s about the cashier saying “are you having your regular, Francine?”  and the barista already beginning to make it before I even order it, and the way I say thank you every morning when I receive my drink and the barista says “you’re welcome.”

I have been to Starbucks all over the world, and it’s always the same: a brand promise kept. A promise of community, not just of coffee.



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: