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By Goofyhoofy
February 29, 2008

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I was thinking about Howard's early moves since taking back the reins on January 7:

Closing unproductive stores seems like a good idea. I don't know why they would have been allowed to fester anyway. Of course it's possible that they were marginally profitable, or marginally unprofitable, and the company thought they would "come along", except, oops, SSS began to fall and it became clear that they wouldn't.

Management changes at the top. This is pretty standard SOP. If there was tension between Howard and the outgoing CEO, it's unlikely that the people the CEO surrounded himself with were going to be the ones Howard wants running the place.

Job cuts, as referenced in a few news stories lately: 600 CUT! Well, actually it's about 300 cut, and 300 now vacant not to be filled. I have no idea what's getting cut, or where, but this is also pretty standard SOP during a company retrenchment. It won't do much for morale, short term, but perhaps it is the right thing to do, given the current economic clime.

Cutting the sandwiches? Well, I guess Howard is serious about getting the "ham and cheese" smell out of the place and returning it to "coffee house." I hope there are some substitutes, better danish or whatever, because every sandwich not sold is some SSS not improved. Presumably he's figured this out, eh?

Testing new price points for coffee? Special deals, or maybe promotions on special products? Check.

Ending the pure "pay for WiFi" in favor of "Hey, if you just get a Starbucks card and use it once in a while, it's practically free." About as good a solution as you can find without "actually free", as it makes the service available and yet encourages people to carry a Starbucks card. Nice.

But the one that has me thinking the most is the announcement that all Starbucks stores will close for three hours tomorrow night for retraining of baristas in customer service, including making espresso drinks the right way. Clearly Howard puts this high on the priority list: you don't close every single blinkin' store for several hours unless you think it's IMPORTANT.

More to the point, it could have been done quietly. He could have sent a memo to each store manager saying "Hey, I think we could use a little tune up on our customer service, so would you find some time and make sure the message gets through to the front line people at the counter?" Of course coming from Howard it would have trickled out to the media and been fodder for snarky news stories, so that could have been avoided by having some flunky Vice President in Charge of Something send it out, but then the message would be diluted, wouldn't it?

No, Howard erected a giant billboard, announced to the world - and particularly to all 170,000 employees (especially the 135,000 on the front line): THIS IS REALLY FREAKIN' IMPORTANT. It is the equivalent of Bill Gates sending out the companywide 1994 "sea change" memo saying 'Hey, INTERNET!" Howard is yelling at the top of his lungs: "HEY, CUSTOMER SERVICE. I'm closing the damn stores so you get it!"

Had customer service deteriorated that badly? I don't know, but obviously he thinks so, and he wants to get back to a time when Starbucks friendly atmosphere and well trained baristas were the hallmark of the company, not "how fast can we move them in and move them out". (He wasn't happy with the auto-espresso machines, either; I suspect they will be available on eBay soon.)

It's quite a laundry list of changes Howard has made in the few weeks he's been back, some seemingly directed at the investment community, some directed at changing the tone and tenor of the shops, and, with the "Worldwide Closing of Stores", some intended to drive a clear, sharp message through to the troops.

General Schultz, leading the charge. Seems like a decent resume for under two months work. The battle for worldwide domination begins anew.