Starbucks have a seemingly ubiquitous presence should you live around major cities in the world.
Convenience is, afterall, the name of the game for the international coffee chain.
The brand entered Malaysia twenty years ago through the mode of licensing, operated by Berjaya Starbucks Coffee. Now, Starbucks Malaysia has 282 outlets nationwide - and the man who instrumented the brand’s establishment here, and its subsequent growth, is none other than Sydney Quays.
‘I worked to bring the brand into Malaysia twenty years ago. During that time, not many people knew of Starbucks,” says Quays, CEO of Berjaya Food and Managing Director for Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei.
Twenty years ago, the ‘model’ customer is someone aged 18 to 35. But today, there’s really no age limit. The brand has evolved tremendously
AWANI Review speaks to Quays at Starbucks Reserve eight outlet launch in Berjaya Times Square recently - a momentous occasion for Quays who oversaw the brand’s growth, from its first store in KL PLaza in December 1998 to become, arguably, Malaysians’ favourite coffee place.
“Twenty years ago, the ‘model’ customer is someone aged 18 to 35. But today, there’s really no age limit. The brand has evolved tremendously.”
“We want to take care of different people’s needs and I think we have done very well judging by our diverse customer portfolios. For example, we have stores near colleges which are packed with students, doing their homework or studying."
“But if you go to our neighborhood stores, you’d find many retirees, who spend half their day there to relax, have their coffee and read newspaper,” says Quays.
“Previously, they would never spend 10 ringgit on a cup of coffee,” he adds, jokingly.
Catering to the different needs of each market segment is a strategy that seemed to work in favour for Starbucks, supported by Quays' other strategy - comfort.
“Convenience is of course a main factor but people go to places where they feel comfortable - be it in the furniture, the connection you have with barista or the environment that you like to spend time on your own,” says Quays.
Starbucks Malaysia - like any company - finds locations where there is enough traffic to support the business. Quays, however, admits that as a brand, it has advantage in selecting the ‘best locations’.
“We have a lot of customers who wants us to be their next door neighbour,” says Quays. “In most instances, people want us to be in because it helps to elevate the mall or office.”
Serving Up More Than Just Coffee
Currently, about 70 percent of Starbucks Malaysia outlets are in major cities. Looking ahead, Quays says more focus will be put into pushing the brand into smaller towns.
“Five years ago, no one would have thought a brand like Starbucks will be able to open (and sustain) in a town like Batu Pahat.”
“But the reception from smaller towns - like Kulim or Segamat - have been fantastic. We have proven it works; that’s where we see the different portfolio of customers. This gives us a lot of confidence to go into even smaller towns,” says Quays.
“Plus, it makes business sense, you pay lower rental.”
Quays, who leads a staff of over four thousand, describes his leadership style as ‘hands off’.
“I don’t control as much,” says Quays. “I used to!” he says with a chuckle. “You do what you need to do and let me know. Most of the time, it works very well,” he adds with a smile.
Starbucks Malaysia Delivering Greater Coffee Convenience
The main challenge for Quays, he says, is meeting customers’ high expectations. “Being in the service industry, the biggest challenge is always meeting the customers’ needs.”
“As we grow, the customer profile also becomes more diverse, so we need to cater to the diversity. Second, as customers’ affluence grow, their needs become very, very detailed. Their expectations for the Starbucks brand is very high. So, people expect a (high) level of service and engagement when they come to our outlet.”
As customers’ affluence grow, their needs become very, very detailed. Their expectations for the Starbucks brand is very high
“We try as much as we can but sometimes we do miss,” Quays adds modestly.
The brand’s mission statement - ‘to satisfy every customer that walks through Starbucks’ door’ - is one that is not easy to live up to, Quays admits. Hence, the company invests heavily in talent training, learning and development.
“Majority of the permanent staff who are partner levels, or store managers, have worked with us for an average 12 years,” says Quays. “Retention is not really an issue.”
On average, Starbucks Malaysia opens thirty outlets a year. “That will not change, at least for the next five years,” Quays affirms.
However, he is looking at exploring different size formats and locations for the new outlets, which doesn’t necessarily have to be full fledged ones.
“We have a big untap market in office buildings. We are also looking at transportation hubs like the LRT and MRT, where we are not very strong in, at the moment,” he says.
“We have two concept stores that doesn’t have much seating, it serves as a convenient place for people to ‘grab and go’. So, we are looking at a very different formats. You can’t always build big stores like this,” says Quays of the sleek 5000 sq ft Reserve outlet.
Out of the thirty stores planned for the coming year, two to three will be Reserve outlets. “We won’t open too many Reserve outlets because it will then dilute its exclusivity,” says Quays.
“Also, the coffee we serve at Reserve are from small lot coffees - they are not grown on huge farms. The small farms cater only to the Reserve stores.”
Biggest Challenge for Starbucks Malaysia
One unique concept in the coffee business that Starbucks Malaysia pioneered here is drive-thru, something that Quays - who has a background in the fast-food business - is very proud of.
“Drive-thru had always been dominated by the fast food boys. I used to spend a lot of time in the fast food business. So I understood and saw the potential of drive-thru.” With 42 set up nationwide, Quays says Malaysia has the most drive-thru Starbucks in Southeast Asia.
“Coffee is an impulse purchase item, so we need to be in places that is convenient for our customers,” says Quays.
“In order for the brand to be sustainable, we need to be able to touch as many people as possible,” he adds.