Already It's been a busy month of May for the Starbucks (SBUX) corporation. A boycott, a bomb squad, a theft ring, a court ruling, a new opening in a new country, a major promotion on a national holiday... It's difficult to imagine what kind of caffeine was consumed by the Starbucks executives who had this much notable news to deal with before the month of May is even halfway over. The most recent news for the Starbucks corporate team is...
- A bomb squad used a robot to open a suspicious briefcase found outside a Murietta, CA Starbucks this month. Although no explosives were disarmed, an iPad and some music performance equipment were the unfortunate casualties of a misinterpreted sidewalk X-ray and the subsequent use of robotic force.
- In another police-related matter, three men were arrested for a series of thefts in which they are accused of snatching laptops literally out of the hands of Starbucks customers as they were typing in Starbucks stores in the Phoenix area. (So an iPad can sit in a briefcase on the sidewalk outside of a Starbucks without being stolen, but the computer you're actively using at a Starbucks table is at risk?)
Apparently the resale value of stolen laptops doesn't justify the wait time it takes to snatch computers that are left unattended during Starbucks restroom breaks. So I guess Starbucks laptop and notepad users will have to be prepared at all times to use those scalding hot Starbucks beverages to defend their property from audacious snatch-and-run thieves from now on.
- The Starbucks legal team has also been on the defensive in the U.S. Court of Appeals, answering allegations of unfair labor practices from the National Labor Relations Board. Starbucks prevailed in this particular court proceeding, and it's now clear that Starbucks has the right to limit the number of pro-union buttons that can be worn by on-duty Starbucks employees to just one. It's not so clear how the price of the average Starbucks beverage will be affected in the future to cover the legal bills incurred to win the landmark button-control case, however.
- In another government run-in, a busy New York Starbucks was shut down for two days by the Department of Consumer Affairs because some Starbucks employee somewhere failed to renew the permit that allowed a restaurant with outdoor seating to be operated at this particular location. Apparently moving the furniture off the sidewalk while the paperwork was being processed ;wasn't a viable option, so the best bureaucratic solution was to slap an "illegal operation" notice on the Starbucks front door and lose two days of tax revenue. Good call.
- Most recently, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) launched an international "Dump Starbucks" campaign in protest of the official Starbucks stance to support same-sex marriage. Although the non-profit "marriage protection" group claims to have gathered more than 38,000 signatures, there is no indication that any of these signatures came from previously loyal Starbucks customers. Time will tell whether the NOM campaign will have a negative impact on Starbucks (like the HRC boycott of Target and Best Buy) or whether it will backfire (like the One Million Moms campaign against jcpenney). Most likely it is political posturing that will have little measurable effect at all.
- Also this month, the first Starbucks store was opened at the Helsinki airport in Finland. No drama, no controversy, no boycotts, no legal wranglings, just a new presence in a new country which will no longer be deprived of the Starbucks brand.
If you add all of this big business together, it doesn't even come close to the busy-ness that I observed in one Starbucks store during one two-hour period. For those who missed it, May 13th was Mother's Day AND it was the last day of Half-Price Frappuccino Happy Hour Week. I have to believe that some marketing manager consciously decided that it was a good idea for those two events to occur on the same day. I'm pretty certain that there was more than one Starbucks store employee who consciously thought otherwise.
But if sheer volume was the goal, the Mother's Day Half Price Frappuccino event was definitely a success. From 3:01 to 4:59:59 that day from where I was sitting in the corner of one medium-sized Starbucks location, there were no less than forty people waiting either to place their order or grab their frapp at any given time. There were almost as many green-aproned people stuffed behind the service counter - pumping, mixing, blending, cupping, and topping frappuccino ingredients in an infinite number of personalized combinations. The extra frapparistas brought in to handle the frappa-rush were heads-down and hyper-focused, despite the frappa-cup mountain assembling itself in their peripheral view.
At 4:26 PM, one of the super-slammed somewhat sticky Frapparista's called out "Thirty-four minutes!" A cheer erupted behind the counter, followed by appreciative laughter from the now nearly 100 customers crowded into the store in some stage of frappa-limbo.
Thirty-four minutes later, even though the frappromotion was officially over, the frappa-frantic activity continued until the last order was ordered, the last blender had blended, and the last half-priced drink was handed to Daphne, the last official frappromotion customer who looked to be less than three years old, and more interested in the straw than the frozen vanilla bean soymilk treat it was connected to.
In all that time with all those customers and all those completely customized concoctions, I only saw one customer return to the counter because their order was wrong. There might have been more mistakes, but only one customer was bothered enough to complain. My own Frappa Mother's Day drink was delivered sometime in that last 34 minutes and it was picture perfect (as you can see).
It was an impressive display of Starbucks training, efficiency, and teamwork. But the most impressive part didn't begin until about 5:25. That's when the first extra employee finished cleaning up, took off his apron and declared, "I'm out!" The spontaneous response from the dozen or so employees still busy behind the counter was "Thanks John!" and a smattering of additional comments like "You Rock!" "Great team!" "Thanks for showing up!" and "Sick, dude!"
One by one as the frappa-extras finished up and checked out, the scene repeated itself and each of the departing employees received their due share of spontaneous praise and appreciation. If it had been written in a book, or scripted in a Starbucks managers training manual, it couldn't have been a more classic demonstration of workplace engagement.
According to the unofficial report from the last frapparistas standing that day, that one location "rocked almost 600 frapps." This seems somewhat impossible if you do the math, but the important thing was that they declared it with pride and there were fist bumps all around in celebration of the accomplishment.
So, as with any multinational enterprise, there's a lot of corporate, government and legal crap to deal with behind the scenes. But if you look beyond the crap and see the happy frapp happening made possible by all the crap-handling, somehow it all seems worth it.
For Starbucks leaders, employees and customers alike, the important thing is not to let yourself get too distracted by either the crap or the frapp, lest you look down to find you've lost the computer on your lap.