Revivannoing SBUX the Howard Schultz way

This is a response to a tumblog post that my co-worker sent me from her side of the cubicle wall. On, a curious girl in a curious world posted 14 Ways Starbucks Has Tried to Revitalize Its Brand. While the rest of the world was distracted by drinking the coffee, she’d been taking notes. Darn good ones, too. Her blog doesn’t allow comments, so this post is my way of adding my own thoughts to hers.

As most people know, I am a coffee addict, even though I recorded “get off coffee” as one of the short-term objectives in my quest for a healthier lifestyle. So far that hasn’t come of age because my Achilles heel, Starbucks, just won’t die. In fact, since Howard Schultz resumed the reins at the beginning of this year, he’s had his lead foot firmly planted on the gas pedal as he drives up the company’s market share.

While I was enjoying my slow wean off the addictive espresso, curious girl had been recording very astute observations about the direction the company is heading. She even caught the on-and-off cancellation of the breakfast sandwich that Howard complained didn’t line up with the company’s core product line. I never knew they were secretly working to reformulate the product to have a coffee-friendly scent.

However, I did think it odd that just before the summer, Starbucks really pushed the registered prepaid card program. Years ago there was really no benefit to using a card. While other coffee companies (like Caffe Artigiano in Vancouver) used prepaid cards to reward guests with free drinks, Starbucks’ card was just like a debit card you didn’t need to authenticate. Even the staff complained that patrons using the card were lousy tippers.

Enter the new card program that still doesn’t give free drinks on a regular basis, but rewards registered cardholders with free flavoured syrups and soy milk. It’s this reason alone that makes it difficult for me to get off coffee, what with my triple-venti sub-peppermint soy caramel macchiato now close to a buck cheaper. I can now order it as a latte macchiato and add the flavourings later.

Curious girl noted that Howard was so impressed with the $11,000 Clover coffee maker that they bought the company. (This reminds me of that old ad: “I liked the Philips Philishave so much, I bought the company!”) Expect a roll out into all stores eventually.

The point of this whole post was really to add my thoughts to extend her point number six:

6. A mystery concoction: There’s a new concoction that Schultz refers to as “a game-changer in the coffee space, something in a cup.” I believe this is the Sorbetto frozen beverage that the ‘Bucks released in LA & OC early in July.

That could be true, but I was thinking this could also refer to… Hello, Vivanno! My Shift Supervisor friend stopped drinking coffee at work, favouring instead this new whey protein–based shake. He seems to be in better spirits lately, so I guess his caffeine purge is working out successfully. I, on the other hand, still have yet to try this drink.

Sadly, a lot of the promotions that Starbucks offers aren’t available yet in Canada. For instance, I’ve had some discussions with their customer service about free Internet access while sipping my macchiato. Part of the reason I signed up for the card program was because a barista in Victoria told me that I could get a free hour of WiFi if I bought my drink with a registered card. I later learned this deal is only available in U.S. stores, because of a partnership between Starbucks and AT&T, who provides WiFi service to U.S. stores.

At this point no similar plans are in the works with Bell, who provides the Hotspot WiFi in Canadian stores. I have a lot to say about Bell’s Hotspot pricing, but that is a subject best saved for a later discussion.

Update 2008/09/03: Last night I spoke with my Shift Supervisor friend again. Apparently Starbucks announced the day after my post that they now offer 2 hours of WiFi access in Canadian stores as well. Sad that my friendly neighbourhood Starbucks customer support person couldn’t send me this update via email.

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