As one of the most widely recognized consumer brands, Starbucks (SBUX -0.73%) has been a winning stock to own over the years. Shares have climbed 450% over the past decade thanks to a successful expansion strategy to continue serving customers all over the world with their favorite caffeinated beverages.

Because Starbucks is a retail business, some metrics are more important than others when it comes to analyzing the company. Here are three key figures investors must know that drive Starbucks' operations. 

Starbucks employee giving out order through window

Image source: Starbucks.

New-store openings 

There are currently 33,295 total Starbucks locations worldwide. This is truly astonishing, and it's almost double the 17,018 stores it had 10 years ago.

It should come as no surprise that in order to grow revenue, building more coffeehouses is the name of the game. Since Starbucks obviously doesn't deal in e-commerce, physical outlets are its bread and butter. 

You're probably thinking that Starbucks' historical store-opening pipeline can't possibly keep going, but you'd be wrong. Management firmly believes that by 2030, there'll be a whopping 55,000 stores operating in 100 markets across the globe. Much of this expansion will come from China, where the company plans to open 600 net new locations in fiscal 2021 alone.

The company is also adding new store formats, including mobile-only, digitally enabled urban locations as well as large, suburban stores that offer a popular drive-through option.

Same-store sales 

Another critical data point that tells us the success of a retail operation is same-store sales, or "comps." Besides a 14% drop in fiscal 2020 due to the pandemic, Starbucks' comps have been positive every year since fiscal 2009 when the financial crisis had taken hold.

Increasing sales volume at each physical location is key for a brick-and-mortar company's success. It leads to greater sales per square foot, sales per store, and ultimately higher levels of profit. 

Management expects comps to grow 20% to 21% this fiscal year compared to 2020, which is a clear indication of the recovery Starbucks is making as we slowly move past the pandemic. As people continue venturing back out again and are on the move, it leads to more chances they will stop by a Starbucks to grab a drink or snack. What's more, the company's top-notch rewards program, of which there are currently 24.2 million active members in the U.S., helps encourage frequent customer visits. 

Margin improvement 

Finally, Starbucks' shareholders should understand the importance of a healthy operating margin that has expanded from 13.7% in Q3 2011 to 19.9% in the latest quarter. As the business boosts same-store sales, fixed costs are spread out over more revenue and the margin improves. 

Further supporting this is the fact that Starbucks sells a premium product, so its ability to introduce new menu items that consumers will be excited about and pay for is superb. Over the long term, Amazon's leadership team forecasts that the operating margin will stay in the range of 18% to 19%. In the near term, however, food inflation along with higher employee wages and benefits are creating an uncertain environment. 

But CFO Rachel Ruggeri paints a positive picture: "These important wage increases coupled with continued investment in digital initiatives and operational efficiencies will further solidify the foundation for our next stage of growth." In the hyper-competitive restaurant sector, Starbucks continues to thrive thanks to its relentless focus on its people -- and that should pay dividends far into the future. 

Starbucks releases financial results for its fiscal fourth quarter and full year on Oct. 28. Now that you are armed with the knowledge of exactly what metrics to concentrate on, you'll be better able to assess the numbers and make informed decisions on its results.