Well, it’s behind us now. Tuesday, Feb 26th, Starbucks closed all 7,100 US stores for three hours, from 5:30pm to 8:30pm to conduct a company wide unprecedented employee refresh training session.
Howard Schultz, the company’s CEO, requested that approximately 135,000 employees participate in this refresher course to reinforce the standards on how Starbucks creates the drinks, including such tasks as pulling proper espresso shots, steaming milk, and bringing all the elements together.
This week’s retraining has been part of an overall initiative to raise the bar at Starbucks, and get back to the core business. In addition to the barista training Tuesday evening, the improvements have also included software upgrades and reprogramming of the Verismo automatic espresso machines, elimination of the hot breakfast sandwiches which have been criticized for overpowering the coffee aroma in the morning, and the introduction of free WiFi internet access (well, sort of free – available to Starbucks debit card holders for the first two hours per day).
Of course, closing down the stores for three hours has been criticized as more of a publicity stunt than a sincere attempt at a quality uplift. Well, perhaps a combination of both, but a pretty expensive publicity stunt if you ask me.
And the media has certainly had a heyday with this one. Did anyone miss the story plastered all over the press, the internet, the television, and the radio? The Starbucks store closings may have actually briefly eclipsed Britney Spears for just a moment. OK, sorry, that’s an exaggeration.
Competitors didn’t let this one sneak by either. Dunkin’ Doughnuts seized the opportunity offering a small latte, cappuccino or espresso drink for 99 cents from 1 pm. to 10pm Tuesday. The Dunkin’ Doughnuts official statement stated that this promotion, available only on the day that the Starbucks stores were closed for the three hour training, was to celebrate a top spot award in a brand loyalty competition. Right. And this wasn’t a Dunkin’ Doughnuts publicity stunt?
Nonetheless, whether it was the Dunkin’ Doughnuts relief for Starbucks refugees or not, it looks like die-hard fans survived without their Starbucks fix Tuesday evening. And shareholders can relax. It seems that store receipts for Tuesday were at about the daily average, so customers must have heard the news in time to stop in early enough and grab their drinks before the doors closed.
After all is said and done, did the training help? Well, I haven’t been back in yet to sample the drinks, but Starbucks employees talking about it over at Starbucks Gossip seem to be positive about the training. Employees are making comments that they’re happy and proud to be taking appropriate measures to improve the drink experience for the customers.
To be expected, someone did post a comment that they went into a Starbucks on Wednesday after the training, and some barista got the drink all wrong. Oh well, life’s tough. Apparently, Starbucks didn’t get a 100% result from re-training 135,000 employees the night before.
For good or bad, with all of the publicity surrounding the training session, the spotlight shines pretty brightly on Starbucks at the moment. I can only imagine the baristas and employees behind the counter having to force a smile as they hear for the millionth time from the next obnoxious and unoriginal customer that just has to ask “so are you trained now”?
Bottom line, in my book, good for Starbucks. They are making the effort, and for the most part, it seems that the employees are behind the company. I expect some good to come as a result of these initiatives.