Friday, October 17, 2008

Starbucks Watch

I did a post over at the Standard Blog yesterday about a new directive from Starbucks which tells baristas not to pull espresso shots into a shot glass to inspect them before they go into the beverage cup. I argued that this looked like an admission from Starbucks that the problems the company faces aren't of its own making, but rather are tied up in an economic environment that presents SBUX with an existential threat.

Galley Friend, coffee expert, and barista K.N. suggests that I may be over-reading this development and it may just be the SBUX bean counters trying to bolster the stock price. Her long dispatch is worth reading:

I liked your point in the charbucks post, but I think you're missing the bigger picture: that they have noodle headed weeny bean counters to come up with "action items" about five seconds worth of labor to pour the shots into the cup is the problem. It's the noodle headed weeny bean counters who are screwing things up, and costing them more money, I'd wager, than the average barista taking the time to check the shots.

I give you an example to prove my point: when I worked at the bou, we were in an economic upturn, hence labor was scarce. Rare was the manager who was actually staffed appropriately. We begged, borrowed, stole to cover shifts, but ultimately managers (who weren't supposed to be behind the counter at that point in time, a policy they've since changed) wound up working way too many hours. To "solve" this problem, the genius Jay Willoughby (the man the board hired to take the company public, whose previous job was to take Boston Market public, a case study which is now taught at Harvard Business School about what NOT to do) and his stooge, Larry DeVries, came up with the brilliant concept of the "Labor Management Manual." We managers were to go through our sales for the week, hour by hour, transcribe them into a nifty notebook, then look on a chart to see how many people we should have had on shift during that time and then mark that down. This was mandatory and was supposed to help us staff our stores more efficiently, and to keep labor costs down. Never mind a. that we had a shortage of employees, not that we were staffing too many people and b. that any decent manager (myself included) already knew how many people they needed on shift to handle the business. I had to turn in this stupid worksheet every week with my P&L statement, receipts, overrings, etc. I wasted hours on this thing--hours I wasn't being paid for because I was salaried and already was over my thirty-six hours. How did it help me to staff my store in a labor shortage? They never looked at anything they could actually do to bring in employees---they only looked at what they could to make the numbers look better. They were trying to position the company to go public. To do that they had to keep the numbers looking good, and as labor is the biggest cost, they weren't trying to help us get staffed, they were trying to make sure things were under control so the investment bankers would like what they saw.

I'm not bitter. Really. It's hours that I'll never get back, but who's counting? Really. I'm fine.

Jay and Larry have since moved on to Pret a Manger (sp?) and last I heard they hadn't driven it into the ground...yet. There's still time, though, if they're still there.

Anyway...the point being that this doesn't necessarily mean the economy is going down, and charbucks is finally realizing this, it's more about the stock market being all over the freakin' place and this is what charbucks can do to fudge the numbers, so the shareholders stay happy. Of course, taking away the shot glasses because of a perceived increase in labor costs is going to ensure shitty shots make it into someone's $4 latte. Which means unhappy customers, who are already shelling out more for lattes than they probably should, so if they want one, they might just go somewhere else next time. Like Caribou. Which makes better lattes to begin with.

If they need to save some money, it would probably be better if they just fired an accountant or two. I mean, really. If they've got the time to figure this kind of crap out, that's not the kind of productivity most board members like to see.

Never mind the fact that the barista who takes five seconds to pour shots into a cup is not qualified to work even at Starbucks. Pfft. Amateurs.

1 comment:

swag said...

Some found this story less of an economic indicator rather than one where Starbucks is becoming more disconnected from any mission they once had for producing the highest quality product possible: