Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Starbucks Closing Locations

Starbucks recently announced that it was closing 600 locations this year. Interestingly, it appears that the company will close company-owned locations, rather than any of its licensed locations (such as small airport shops). While this closure strategy may make sense economically, one still wonders about the strategic logic of the company's massive growth of licensed locations. It seems quite likely that the proliferation of licensed locations, including the abundant licensing to food service companies, has diluted the Starbucks brand.

It's hard to argue that you are one of the highest quality coffee companies in the country when you have your coffee being brewed and then sold from air pump dispensers in tons of different locations. How long does that coffee sit in those dispensers before it is sold? Is it really fresh? Does it always taste as good as Starbucks drip coffee sold in its company-owned locations?

In my view, the company must address this fundamental strategic question. The craving for growth above all else clearly drove them to expand at a frenetic pace in recent years. Now, retrenching can be painful. Stepping back from its licensing strategy won't be easy. It may even be economically a negative in the short run, but it may be precisely what the company must do strategically to position itself for the future.