Starbucks: It's All In The Details - BusinessBlog : McGraw-Hill
HR & Training Leadership Marketing & Sales

Starbucks: It’s All In The Details

Adapted from The Starbucks Experience, by Joseph Michelli.

What’s left for Starbucks management to worry about, once they have attended to the details of the in-store environment, product quality, ongoing training, and the creation of a playful culture? The answer, as you might have guessed, is “everything.”

Many managers don’’t track details other than those that affect the quality of their product or service and their company’’s physical environment. But Starbucks leaders extend the Everything Matters orientation well beyond local and regional considerations. They apply their detail-oriented approach to worldwide environmental and social issues, even when a great percentage of their customer base may not realize that they are behaving with a global mind-set. So why would they be so broadly focused? In short, it’’s because superior corporate leadership demands tireless excellence and a broad scope.

That excellence is reflected in the development of the Starbucks paper cup sleeve. In August 1996, Starbucks and the Alliance for Environmental Innovation entered into a partnership to reduce the environmental impact of serving coffee in the retail stores. At the time, many coffee drinkers required double (i.e., nested) cups to make their hot beverage easier to carry. In order to address environmental goals and maintain the customers’ comfort, an arduous process was initiated to come up with a workable alternative.

Market research was conducted to look at the environmental impact of double-cupping. Two years of exploration was devoted to developing a quality hot cup that would allow for single-cupping, and the process resulted in an interim solution: —a corrugated paper cup sleeve that Starbucks developed.

Other, more permanent solutions were attempted, and focus groups were brought in to analyze various options. After considerable time and expense, the Starbucks Coffee Company/Alliance for Environmental Innovation Joint Task Force ultimately concluded in April 2000, “After more than two years of testing and developing prototypes of this cup, the data did not clearly indicate that the final version would meet all the criteria and could be brought to market within a reasonable time and cost. In addition, Starbucks customers had become accustomed to using a single paper cup with a corrugated paper sleeve.”

All that extra effort was expended for a cup that will never reach the hand of a customer. Ouch! So, the single cup and sleeve remain, despite all attempts to produce a solo cup that could stand up to the heat. But even then, Starbucks management did not lose sight of its environmental objectives; it continued to champion improvements, such as changing the paper content of the cups to include 10 percent recycled materials. That attention to often unseen details led Starbucks to be the first company to achieve a cup that addressed environmental concerns.

So why do Starbucks managers care about research on paper cups? What’s in it for them? The answer is amazingly simple: the Starbucks brand, and every company’s brand, is nothing more than the sum total of the individual actions its people take. While some efforts may seem more publicly important than others, all actions (even the below-deck ones) are critical. In fact, companies that take a leadership position on environmental and social issues increasingly find that people are taking notice.

Joseph A. Michelli Ph.D. is the founder of Lessons for Success a training consulting and keynote presentation company. He also hosts an award-winning daily radio show on KVOR-AM in Colorado and speaks to various organizations throughout the world. Visit to learn more.


Joseph A. Michelli is an internationally sought-after speaker, author, and organizational consultant. His books include The Starbucks Experience, The New Gold Standard, The Zappos Experience, Leading the Starbucks Way, and Prescription for Excellence, which hit #1 on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists.