With its signature green siren logo and its tall, skinny, mocha frappuccino lingo, there’s no arguing that Starbucks has crafted one of the most recognizable brands on earth. When it comes to hooking loyal coffee-drinkers, however, Starbucks doesn’t stop at its patrons.
Earlier this month, the coffee giant made a $35 million investment in its own employees, ensuring that the company’s baristas would be just as enthusiastic about its lattes as the customers they serve them to.
The company spent the millions on a “Leadership Lab” in Houston, Texas for 9,600 store managers across the U.S. The conference was a decked out spectacle of 5,000 live coffee trees and exhibit after exhibit of ethical sourcing practices and problem-solving stations involving imaginary customers.
Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler, who attended the conference, writes:
Starbuck’s Leadership Lab is, as its name implies, part leadership training, with a station that walks store managers through a problem-solving framework. It’s also part trade show, with demonstrations of new products and signs with helpful sales suggestions, such as “tea has the highest profit margins.” The majority of experiences are meant to be educational, including several that give store managers access to top managers of the company’s roasting process, blend development, and customer service.
But what makes the Leadership Lab different than a typical corporate trade show is the production surrounding all of this. The lights, the music, and the dramatic big screens all help Starbucks marinate its store managers in its brand and culture. It’s theater—a concept that Starbucks itself is built on.
“Our store managers are the heart and soul of Starbucks and being a coffee leader is just as critical as being a business leader,” Starbucks president of the Americas, Cliff Burrows, said. “This conference… will help them deliver a perfect coffee experience with inspired customer service every day.”
Devoting time and money to employee enthusiasm has certainly worked for major companies in the past. Wegmans, a privately owned grocery chain based in upstate New York, regularly invests in happy, knowledgeable employees, sending its butchers to Uruguay and Argentina to learn about beef and its deli staff to Italy and France to study cheese. The investment has resulted in very little employee turnover and what is often described as “cult-like” enthusiasm among both staff and customers.
For Starbucks, the $35 million seems to have instilled brand loyalty in at least a few of the employees attending the conference.
“It makes me proud,” Fawnya Ramirez, a Starbucks store manager from San Mateo, Calif. told Kessler. “There’s just so much good that goes into a little bag of coffee.”