Lessons From Starbucks

No business story has captivated the world as that of the phenomenon of Starbucks, which has parlayed the buzz and fun of coffee drinks into a veritable neighborhood hangout while, at the same time, making their coffees, bottled coffee drinks, ice cream, and other products available at your local grocers. Although there are more than 5,000 Starbucks internationally, and you may only have one tea shop, there are, nonetheless, good lessons to pattern.

Say Welcome With Comfort
What has Starbucks done so "right" that tea shops could emulate? For openers, it has replicated the Parisian concept of leisurely enjoying coffee in a relaxed atmosphere in locations available everywhere. Certainly you're offering the finest teas available, great accessories and tea-making paraphernalia, and displaying them beautifully. Have you made your shop as welcoming and as comfortable to be in? Are you using this design to educate your audience about more than their current tea favorites? Starbucks has numerous display areas near the sitting area as well as near the main counter. How do you make it easy for customers to find accessories, foods, and gift items? Do you have colorful, attractive cards that encourage customers to ask for what they do not see? Are shelves easy to reach and inventory clean and dust-free? Do you change items around and introduce new products frequently?

Educate With Temptation
The scent of coffee is nearly overpowering, but continually brewing coffee is part of the "temptation" of Starbucks. We tea lovers believe nothing is more tempting than the aroma of freshly brewed tea, so the wise tea shop owner should definitely brew samples of one or more teas each, price them as "specials" and use this opportunity to educate customers about each tea. If someone wants a sample of a tea other than the day's offering, offer an ounce of the tea at a discount so that they can try the tea at home.

Train, Train, Train the Staff
Starbucks is famous for its training. Its staff knows the names of each coffee-growing country, the difference between a peaberry bean and a bean from Papua and can discuss roasting techniques. Can your staff tell customers the essential differences between teas from China and India and Japan? Between Sri Lanka and Taiwan? Can they name at least three teas from the categories of white, green, oolong, and black? Teach them the various brewing methods and allow them to share their enthusiasm for particular accoutrements even as they impart information on others. If you offer more than twenty teas, carefully label each container with origin, brewing time and quantity, and other relative information and ask the staff to indicate the same on each package of tea sold.

Give Your Staff Tea
Yes, give teas to the staff. Starbucks gives each partner a pound of coffee a week. You can offer each member an ounce or more of a tea each week to sample and experiment. Encourage them to cultivate their individual palates by offering substantial discounts on all teas and merchandise. Hold tea tastings with your staff each season or more often. Get them totally involved in sampling, tasting, and buying teas. If they don't love the experience, how can they sell tea?

Support Your Staff
Perhaps no other chain of stores has the choice and the selection that Starbucks offers from prescription drugs and vision benefits to insurance for domestic partners. As a one-shop purveyor, you are certainly limited with what you can offer right now because of costs, but shop around; there may be benefits you can offer as enticements for loyalty and longevity. Sometimes, typical benefits are not really what employees want; ask them what they need/want to grow with your shop.

Make Staff "Partners"
Starbucks employees are called partners. This word is so very powerful for an employee and goes a long way in encouraging "ownership" of their role in the business. Regularly ask for their input. Honor their best suggestions by incorporating them in the shop. Involve them in the display and marketing of products in the shop. Take staff, or underwrite their attendance, to trade shows as a prelude to soliciting their opinions and participation in the decision making process of buying teas and accessories and related merchandise.

As you grow, consider the possibility of limited partnerships with selected staff, which can be the beginning of expansion to more shops staffed with those who share your visions and mission. Even if expansion is not in your plan, treat staff as co-workers and theoretical partners, not as underlings; teach, teach, teach; praise whenever exceptional work is done, get them involved in the taste of tea and the use of accessories, and they will be your strongest assets in increasing the "bucks" for your business.

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