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Starbucks Coffee Company is the largest coffee house in the world, serving up ethically sourced, high-quality arabica brews at its nearly 33,000 retail locations around the globe. Its commitment to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time began in 1971 and is as strong as ever 50 years later.
Of course, back then, coffee wasn’t the trendy must-have it is today so the company basically pioneered the movement and, in doing so, became an integral part of the fabric of thousands of neighbourhoods and millions of lives around the world.
In Malaysia, Berjaya Food Berhad (BFood) is responsible for bringing Starbucks to the country under Berjaya Starbucks Coffee Company. It first opened its doors in December 1998 and since then, BFood Group CEO and Starbucks Malaysia Managing Director Dato Sydney Quays says it’s been quite the journey.
“We knew this brand would grow because it was, essentially, filling a void in the market. There was really no place for people to gather to sit down and enjoy a great cup of coffee.”
“Obviously, 23 years ago, Starbucks wasn’t as well known as it is today,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “At the time, we really didn’t even know that much about coffee. The coffee business just wasn’t as popular as it is today. But we saw the potential. We knew this brand would grow because it was, essentially, filling a void in the market. There was really no place for people to gather to sit down and enjoy a great cup of coffee.”
Taking a risk on the brand all those years ago paid off big time. Now, Starbucks is as much of a fixture in the landscape with its iconic two-tailed siren-designed logo-emblazoned cups as the golden arches of McDonald’s and Burberry’s trademarked tan, black and red tartan design. “Over 23 years, we have grown to about 336 stores – a number we continue to grow,” Sydney shares. “With the easing of lockdown restrictions, we’re opening six to seven stores each month.”
These locations include more than 63 drive-through stores and 14 Reserve stores. Even more, the retail outlet in Bangsar Village II is the world’s first Starbucks Signing Store; a concept that caters to the hearing impaired. “We opened the Signing Store just five years ago in 2016. And since, we’ve opened another in Penang. In the US, they opened one in Washington DC modelled after ours here. It’s something we’re very proud of,” he says.
Pride is something that runs deep in Starbucks Malaysia. There’s a pride of ownership worked into each individual retail store that makes every Starbucks feel uniquely special. “We make sure that every Starbucks store is managed as if it’s the only store, and we do that by empowering our managers; training them to manage the outlet like it belongs to them,” Sydney explains.
“We have always built that sense of ownership and entrepreneurship into our business model because it enhances the customer service and benefits the business in many ways – it makes them feel like they aren’t just another chain store.”
When that sense of pride is achieved, Sydney says the benefits trickle down to the staff. “Here, we call our staff our partners. And because the people who own each store are so invested in its success, they want to take care of their partners. They feel very proud of what they’re doing and, in turn, want to do everything they can to ensure the business runs smoothly.”
Even though Starbucks is revered globally for its great product and cult status, that doesn’t mean Starbucks Malaysia can sit back and ride on the success of its global parent. Sydney says it has been vital to make Starbucks fit into the local landscape too.
“We need to do things here in a way that also complements our local culture,” he points out. “We don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, this is just another American brand.’ No, what we’re trying to build here is a brand that is locally relevant to the community we have here.”
The Malaysian spin is incorporated through various programs that are launched on a local level, specifically targeted at a community’s wants and needs. Since 2011, Starbucks’ partners and volunteers have served more than 80,000 hours of community service in communities where its stores operate.
That’s because, more than a cup of coffee, Starbucks deems itself a business made from human connections. Something its team partners live and breathe as they work each shift and something Starbucks takes seriously in its efforts to maintain consistent standards within the business.
The coffee shop behemoth is continually recognised for its outstanding training and development programs, receiving awards such as Investment in People at the Asia Responsible Enterprise Awards 2018 and Top Companies to Work for in Asia at the Asia Corporate Excellence and Sustainability Awards in 2017. This recognition serves as a testament to the continuous enrichment Starbucks provides its partners to develop their proficiencies and skills, regarding all things coffee.
“When you have suppliers that actually know your business and have worked with you and your people over time, they understand the brand, know your requirements and appreciate how specific things are supposed to be done.”
“We train our partners to protect our standards regarding food, service and hospitality because if we let any of that slide, the customer will feel it,” Sydney says. “And the customer has many options. If they’re not happy, then they’ll just go somewhere else.”
This hyper focus on standards has led Starbucks Malaysia to set up a department that solely manages hospitality and the way customers are greeted – something that doesn’t necessarily come as naturally as it would in the US, for example. “It’s never easy in an Asian environment for people to speak to anybody. Malaysians, in particular, tend to be very reserved,” he reveals.
“So, in order to get somebody to even come into the store and create a conversation with them, it can be pretty tough. It takes a lot of confidence and training. But it’s absolutely vital to the customer experience to have that engagement.”
Another important factor essential to the customer experience is strategic partnerships. In many cases, the suppliers Starbucks Malaysia has today are the same ones it’s had since day one. Having these long-term relationships has benefited the company in more ways than one.
“When you have suppliers that actually know your business and have worked with you and your people over time, they understand the brand, know your requirements and appreciate how specific things are supposed to be done,” Sydney says.
“It makes life much easier. And it means if there’s a hiccup in our supply chain or something, it’s greatly reduced and therefore doesn’t affect the customer. That’s why we nurture and keep those relationships close.”