What Starbucks Taught Me About Being a Small Business Owner

Starbucks_Coffee_Mug_Apron

What Starbucks Taught Me About Being a Small Business Owner

Like many college students in need of health insurance and a flexible schedule, I worked for the largest coffeehouse company in the world: Starbucks. At first, it felt like any other job at a huge corporate chain. There were mission statements, policies and procedures, codes of conduct, and of course, the company’s vision. But it wasn’t until I launched my own company that I realized my experience working for Starbucks taught me to be a better small business owner. And while many dismiss Starbucks’ policies and procedures as corporate bureaucracy, there are a few key traits that small business owners can apply to their own companies:

TREAT EMPLOYEES LIKE TEAM MEMBERS. At Starbucks, we were never referred to as employees. We were partners. This title did more than reference our stock-holder status. It made us a part of the company’s success.  An “employee” or “staff member” indicates they are the hired help, and therefore, don’t hold accountability for your business’s success or failures. Treating everyone as team members will make them feel like they hold a stake in the company and productivity will improve.

TAKE THE HIT TO PLEASE THE CUSTOMER. At Starbucks, the customer was always right. If they said they asked for decaf and you give them regular, remake it and give them a free drink for next time. If they say their drink isn’t hot enough, remake it and give them a free drink for next time. Never argue and make sure the customer leaves happy. I find that a lot of small business owners are concerned about the bottom line. If a customer wants to return a product, they see the loss of profit and inventory. If a client is unhappy with services and wants to withhold payment, the business owner sees the loss of revenue. While I don’t believe the customer is always right, I do believe it’s imperative that you keep them happy. Sometimes, that means sacrificing the bottom line in the short term. But customer retention will pay off big in the long term.

HAVE A VISION AND A MISSION. Starbucks’s original mission was to re-create the Italian coffeehouse experience. CEO Howard Schultz wanted Starbucks to be customers’ “third place,” a place between work and home. Every initiative centered on that mission, whether it was the design of the café or the products available. Most small business owners have a vision when they first launch their company, but with growth, that vision sometimes gets lost. Create a mission statement and always remember your vision. It should shape every decision you make as a business owner.


Dana Kaye is the owner of Kaye Publicity, a boutique PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment. She is also the creator of the Chicago Literati Networking Event where booksellers, authors, and publishing pros gather to mingle and network. For more, visit www.KayePublicity.com.

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