No Double Half-Caf Venti Low-Fat Mochaccino Left Behind

No Double Half-Caf Venti Low-Fat Mochaccino Left Behind

A challenge for school leaders.

There's some serious thought behind the Frappuccino. It is no accident that people are willing to pay over four bucks for a cup of joe and that the average Starbucks customer visits 18 times per month. Ever see a Starbucks go out of business? Of course not. Starbucks has grown from 1,000 to 13,000 stores in a decade, with 27,000 more planned for the next five years.

Starbucks is an unqualified success. Right? Not so, according to a corporate memo sent by founder and CEO Howard Schultz on February 14:

Over the past 10 years, in order to achieve the growth, development, and scale necessary to go from less than 1,000 stores to 13,000 stores and beyond, we have had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have led to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, what some might call the commoditization of our brand.

Many of these decisions were probably right at the time, and on their own merit would not have created the dilution of the experience; but in this case, the sum is much greater and, unfortunately, much more damaging than the individual pieces. For example, when we went to automatic espresso machines, we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time, we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines ... blocked the visual sight line the customer previously had to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista.

Schultz also complained about the stores feeling "sterile and cookie cutter" like, losing "the warm feel of the neighborhood." Starbucks' merchandise is "more art than science," he said. The menu addition of hot breakfast sandwiches has allowed cheese to burn in the oven and overpower the essential aroma of fresh coffee.

How many teachers in your district have business cards?

Such attention to detail is the reason customers love Starbucks. Schultz based the company on a desire to combine gourmet coffee with Italian caf? culture. Starbucks stores are your "third place." There's home, work and Starbucks. It's the American pub. Their products are carefully designed to tell a story about lifestyle or the exotic lands where your drink originated. Their motto is that "geography is a flavor."

This scenario has everything to do with the state of public education. The change in course Schultz advocates acknowledges that the attempts by Starbucks to homogenize, or in school parlance, "teacher-proof," their processes for short-term gains may have destructive long-term consequences. Is our quest for multiple-choice miracles and reduction of children into aggregated data destroying the educational experience? If so, what will you say in the memo to your "partners"? What is your school's story?

Since 2004, 25,000 "partners" have graduated from an optional Coffee Master course in which they learn to discern the subtleties of regional flavor with rituals similar to wine tasting. Distinctive aprons and business cards honor their learned expertise. How many teachers in your district have business cards?

Schultz stated boldly that Starbucks' "problems are self-induced" and that success is "not an entitlement." He concluded, "I take full responsibility myself, but we desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience."

Will you have the courage to lead a change in course, or will the stench of burnt cheese waft through your corridors?

Gary S. Stager, gary@stager.org, is senior editor of DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION and editor of The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate (www.districtadministration.com/pulse).


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