Starbucks is closed

Yesterday evening, Starbuckses all over the City and I think the Country closed their doors for 3 hours. While most accountants are no doubt pulling their hair over the lost latte sales, from a branding point of view I raise my hands and applaud.

The reason for the close: training. Staff was given the time to polish up their skills, learn new drinks, and I’m sure hear an inoffensive earful from the corporate overlords. Who else but Starbucks would have the confidence to close during the day and turn away thousands of customers as an investment in their brand? Not many. Read more about the plan from this article, and the observed aftermath from this post.

It’s also worth noting that Starbucks doesn’t franchise their stores, with the exception of those special location in hospitals, airports, etc. That helps with a big mandate like this; you’d never see McDonald’s doing this in a million years because it would be money directly out of the pocket of the franchisee.

Why is this a great move? Because staff is the single most important link in the great chain of a brand. Incidentally, it’s also the weakest. While Starbucks already boasts staff who are well-trained and persistent in fixing your drink correctly, it never hurts to do some belt-tightening. Obviously, this is the thinking from newly-returned CEO Howard Shultz. I’ll be interested to see if the training time has any immediate effects like the rumoured Honey Latté. However, like most branding initiatives, this is probably a long-term investments.

It does have one short-term effect, the ‘wow’ factor. When I read the news I gasped out loud, as I’m sure did many a stockholder. While this move is primarily a branding exercise, it also doubles as a PR stunt — folks like me will be left to wonder why their local Starbucks closed. Are there new products? Are they adding new processes? Let’s go find out. Boom, instant footfall, increase in sales. Temporary, but welcome all the same. You could say that this rebound is just the equal-and-opposite reaction to the boost that Dunkin Donuts received from the closing to begin with.

Starbucks has been taking some risks lately and it will take some time to see if they pay off. Free Wi-Fi, one dollar short cups, and a series of layoffs are all part of this change. Of course, I still like Starbucks; methinks more than ever.