Starbucks Cancels Manager Leadership Conference in Orlando; Reinvests In Technology.
You may have seen in the news that Starbucks was planning a store manager leadership conference, to be held in Orlando this year. Howard Schultz has written a letter to his partners detailing that this leadership conference has been canceled, and that instead Starbucks “will reinvest the money required to host this one-time event into the technology and digital improvements that will serve store managers, their teams and all our partners for years to come.” ( A partner, whom I don’t know, sent me the letter via email.)
It looks like Starbucks is driving technology into new directions. There are even investor analysts who write that “technology drives expectations” at Starbucks. It’s been in the news that Starbucks is intending to roll out mobile order and pay (via the Starbucks phone app) nationally. I’ve seen partners request such technology improvements as having their coffee passport in a mobile phone app format. Here is another partner asking for an app for their coffee passport. (I’ve heard gossip that this is in development, but please don’t quote me on that.) Another idea is a phone app that allows partners to see their schedules. (I’ve also heard gossip that this in the works too, but again do not quote me on that.)
Actually, I’d love to see a customer version of a Starbucks coffee passport mobile phone app – and for the Android phone too please! 😉
While I know that it’s disappointing to hear that Starbucks canceled the big store manager leadership conference in Orlando, I want to couch this in the framework that Starbucks is working on exciting things relevant to the partner experience, and intended to improve the partner experience. It’s interesting – I was Facebook messaging with a Starbucks store manager yesterday about this big announcement, and her comment to me was, “we managers will bounce back just fine.”
I don’t mean to write this as a downer that a big conference has been canceled, rather it’s interesting to think about what Starbucks will be doing with their digital experiences in the future. (What’s below is only excerpts from the letter from Howard).
What technology changes do you want to see?
I have not been impressed by the performance of Starbucks current technology partners.
I also see a subtle message in the canceling of the Leadership Conference, be prepared for more automation and less human interaction.
DadCooks I get that cancelling this conference is a big deal. I’m saddened a bit too. I prefer face to face interaction in the stores over the idea of ordering from the Starbucks app. But in the year 2015, having the best technology is critical. Maybe now is the time for more investment in it.
I’m so excited for all of the new things to come! I know they strive to be at the cutting edge of the newest technology and methods. I always look forward to what’s next 🙂
You said “I want to couch this in the framework that Starbucks is working on exciting things relevant to the partner experience, and intended to improve the partner experience”.
I want to say that this “partner experience” was designed for those below the manager. All managers got was more work and a food benefit. And now, we get our conference cut but the District Manager and up got their conference. It’s just frustrating for me now that I moved up to this position on how little manager really matter to the company. The baristas matter and the DM and up matter, but not the Store manager. very sad day for me. And before anyone goes after me about our “bonus” its not really a bonus when your store misses target by very little and you don’t get the bonus or when you do it’s taxed at 50%, so you’re still not getting a bonus. So, low pay for the position, many many hours for a job I love but a system of management that I don’t love.
Keri, that is heartbreaking to read. I’m sorry. I totally understand this is a big deal. From what I understood, this letter was on the portal & so partners everywhere know. ?? The reason this came to my attention is that I saw a change.org petition that said “bring back leadership.” I think it’s worth a discussion.
I’m cautiously optimistic about the cancelling of the conference. The conferences do have the effect of inspiring, and re-invigorating passion in those that attend. And since the job we do *can* get tiring, it’s an important thing to do. Leadership will need to think carefully about other ways to accomplish that same inspiration if a conference is not happening.
On the other hand, technology issues are the number one things that drive me insane on a day-to-day basis at work. From ancient till hardware that can’t seem to handle the newest software, to laptops that are persnickety about connecting to the internet, to the abomination that is Microsoft SharePoint + internet hotspot, there are many days I give up a task to move onto something that won’t make me tear my hair out. So, I’d hold off being inspired if I could have less frustration on a daily basis 🙂 Perhaps I’d be able to whip up a little inspiration myself, hehehe…
I’m in the Canadian market though, hence my cautious optimism. We don’t tend to have the same things as the US – there is no partner food markout, university credits at ASU, mobile ordering and pay etc, mobile tipping was supposed to come out 6+ months ago, but has yet to materialize, we have yet to switch to the new scheduling system that most of the US switched to ages ago – so I have my doubts about whether I will reap any benefit from this cancellation.
I tend to agree with the SM you were messaging – we will bounce back – if I was just in it for the conferences, I would have left a long time ago for a different job that offered annual conferences/trips etc. As it was, I was planning to go early with my sister and spend some time at Harry Potter World – perhaps now we will just go by ourselves, at a time that is more convenient for both of us 🙂
john moore (from BrandAutopsy)
Whoa. Nice scoop Melody. I just texted with another former longtime SBUX marketer and we were both disappointed in learning about this for the brand, the business and the store managers. Company culture isn’t something to take lightly.
Our takeaway was simply… what technology is so valuable to the business that overcomes devaluing the people that serve the business?
@John Moore – LOL – I wasn’t really thinking about this as “scoop” – But when this came to my attention, I had to think that this is a very valid discussion subject. You make great points, and when you put it into perspective, it does make you wonder what technology is so important, and the relative costs. But one thing for sure, those leadership conferences must cost millions! Even having said that, it’s hard to know what that means in terms of the total Starbucks budget.
It is disheartening to hear they canceled the conference. All these changes to the partner experience has been focused on below the SM level.
Worse off a lot of these partner investments have been met with mixed feelings. Yes tattoos and No rings has been a big issue. Pay increase but raise decrease has been a sore point for many as well. I can’t even effect how my partners get paid anymore as we’ve gotten rid of reviews (below the SM level that is).
Sure at the end of the day SMs will bounce back, but if the job becomes more and more just a paycheck – people will look around for where they can find a bigger paycheck.
I get it. They get the most bang for their buck by focusing on the largest group of partners and profitability is key to success.
I have mixed feelings about this announcement. It is quite a bummer that the leadership conference has been postponed, but I am actually really excited to see what types of new technologies that corporate will bring into the stores.
When I first started working with the company about 2 years ago, I was shocked to see how archaic the inventory system was. Having worked retail at a drug store, I was used to having a telzon to either scan items in or input their SKU/UPC/NDC and tally a total.
The POS can also use some work, especially with the many modifications that need to be keyed in for each transaction. The lag on each terminal is excruciating, especially during the morning rush where you’re trying to key things in as quickly and as accurately as possible.
Aside from the hardware limitations, a lot of the software can stand to be upgraded as well. Having schedules, coffee passports, and other partner-need-to-know information available via mobile devices would be fantastic. Being able to see your schedule and possibly the schedule from other stores in your district or area would making finding shift coverage a whole lot easier.
All in all, I know that a lot of Store Managers are upset about the news that the conference will be postponed, but I truly think that having the money invested in increases the stores’ technological capabilities now will help all partners for time to come. Just my 2 cents.
Technology is good, but I go to Starbucks for the people, not the technology. Thank you to all of the Starbucks’ partners who, by a kind word or two, have brightened my day! No matter how great is the technology, it is the people, not the website or the app, who work at Starbucks who keep bringing me back. Also, a big shout out to those patient folks at the other end of the customer service phone line who I call whenever the technology makes a mistake!
I thought leadership conferences were evey 4 years and we just had a conference in 2012 ?
Interesting comments. The SM at my local store had told me a bit ago about his going to this conference. Wonder what he thinks of it being cancelled. My hope is that as a result of this that they upgrade the registers and put the reward offerings on your card automatically so you do not need a paper or code to activate. The register at my local store is often breaking down or slow and it frustrates not only the partners but the customers. I am not interested in the apps end as I use the old fashioned cards.
@Purple1 – I find all the register comments interesting because Starbucks >just< did pour a lot into register upgrades. Here in Seattle, most every store has the nice new equipment – larger screens. I assume they're rolling those out nationwide. I have heard many partners telling that the BOH computers and store laptops are woefully out of date – I remember a few years ago there was a big push to get every store a laptop, but technology changes so fast, those laptops probably are dated now. Still, one lingering question in all of this is why wouldn't Starbucks have already budgeted for big technology changes?
Sounds like great news! The company is so embarrassingly behind in too may ways, and technology is near the top. SBUX is the MSFT of the cafe works: it’s hard to understand how they can be so large and yet so awkwardly backwards. You want to look the other way from the train wreck. And yet you know there are folks making good money while authorizing such continued dysfunction. Do Millenials patronize the stores when they have other options? I would imagine the brand seems as outdated and irrelevant to smart and savvy young folks as McD’s does to everyone else: like a confusing yet gorilla-like relic.
Oops. Apparently no way to edit a comment. works = world; Millenials = Millennials.
I agree that the SM is the one person that seam to be the least important to the company. I don’t mind when they take decisions based on what is best for the company, that’s called good business. but please…a few apps they plan to roll out do not come close to the cost of a conference. So were will the balance of the money go. People high up are taking a huge pay raise (very much deserved I imagine) but probably enough to cover part of the cost of the conference. So if SM’s do matter then they should put their money were their mouth is….just sayin
As an ex SM for the Bux I can tell you it was the most disheartening job I have ever had in my 40 years of working. SM’s are very unappreciated. Not helped by my crazy controlling external hire DM. Taking a huge pay cut to move jobs was the best thing for my sanity and life/work balance I ever did.
@Ben and Joe Blaggs – I hope that there is some thought that there will be a store leadership conference in 2016 or 2017, of course I have no idea.
I truly understand how this could really deflate store managers. I remember one shareholder’s meeting hearing Howard Schultz saying that the most important person in the company “is the store manager” basically saying that they drive their stores and drove the Starbucks transformation in the book Onward.
I hope Starbucks will find some way to make it up to SMs, some how.
Of course this isn’t the first conference to be announced then cancelled. Eight or nine years ago they announced a trip to Costa Rica for all the Store Managers only to have it cancelled. Back then it was because the economy had just gone down the toilet and it was probably a good call. While this seems like a good call too it would be better if they didn’t dangle a carrot in front of the managers then pull it away. I managed a store for 8 years and if you’ve never been in that position you would never even begin to understand how little the Sm’s matter to DM’s and up.
in case anyone is wondering… i asked, and the conference has not been rescheduled as of yet.
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Well, shucks… I am sad to hear this. I was looking forward to volunteering at the event and maybe, just maybe, getting a close up glimpse of Howard.