Starbucks Operations and Inventory Management


The key factors for any business growth and sustainability comprises of management of operations, services reliability and high product quality. Starbucks experience in operation management can be taken as a basis in which some of the operation management concepts can be applied or put in practice. This paper aims at offering a holistic study on the way inventory management as part of the overall operation management have resulted into the improved quality of the company products and services. This improved quality has also resulted into increased market share, productivity and profitability.

The project approach provides insights on how the company has successfully managed its inventory and operations. The paper provides a brief introduction about Starbucks and current academic literature in regards to the company inventory management. The research methodologies and analysis of the finding are included in the project. Recommendations aimed at improving the company operations and inventory management is also offered.


Starbucks Corporation is recognized as a retailer and premier roaster of specialty coffee worldwide. It was founded in 1971and is headquartered in Seattle, Washington. The company purchases, roasts and sells high quality bean coffees along with Italian style espresso beverages, rich brewed coffee, cold blended beverages, selections of premier tea, and a variety of some complementary food items. In addition, the company licenses its trademarks through its licensees, equity investees and licensed retail stores. It operates in more than 50 countries with much of its strong presence in the UK, Canada, Japan, China, Portugal, Poland, Kuwait and Bulgaria.

The corporation has business fragments including the U.S.A., CPG and intercontinental. Starbucks Corporation has increased its operating stores globally from seventeen stores that it had in the fiscal 1987 to 16,635 retail stores it currently manages in over fifty countries. Most Starbucks operating retail stores are spread universally with over 11,000 stores found in the United States, and nearly 6,355 opened internationally.

Literature Review

One of the most important operation management in any given firm is the inventory management. The reason is that inventory affects both the product processing as well as the delivery of finished products to the customers. The responsibilities for managing inventory needs a large amount of capital knowledge and skills. According to Rastogi (2010, p.33), effective inventory management will have a positive effect on all business functions. In other words, the inventory management will affects all areas of business units that comprises of marketing, information systems, operations, finance and accounting (Tempelmeier 2011, p.213). In the current business management practices, the application of basic tools like the RFID (Ratio-frequency identification) and the bar coding will improve the decisions regarding the inventory management.

Inventories are totally different in all companies (Bragg, 2011). This means that even the way they are being managed also differs. Firms must consider the fact that the customers have increasing prospects for the quality that is associated with the products that are being delivered (Berger 2011, p.168). Timely Delivery of the finished products to the customer is an essential part of the quality that the customer needs. Failure to deliver the products in time raises the customer concern and worsens the negative perception about the company (Heizer and Render 2010, p.313).

Secondly, the companies must be cognizant of how they can manage the inventories that have high demand (Aswathappa, 2010). This means that such kind of inventories requires constant replenishment. In the contrary, those stocks that take longer time to move out of stores have an increasing risk of obsolescence (Müller, 2011,). Therefore, the type of inventory and the urgency with which they are needed by the customer or for processing will determine the management methodology and the type of tools used. The inventory control models should also consider costs that are involved. In most cases, inventory control parameters are determined by the demand forecasting (Gelinas et al. 2011, p.112).

The type of demand also determines the cost of inventories. For instance, intermittent demands are predominantly hard to envisage resulting into shortage which may be extremely costly. According to Kadre (2011, p.119), demand forecasting is extremely essential for stock level planning. Even though demand forecasting is prone to errors, the knowledge of such errors enables the definition of the necessary safety stocks (Burtonshaw-Gunn, 2010).


The choice of a research method depends on its strengths and weaknesses (Heine, 2010). For instance, the quantitative technique draws on the numerical value as it explains the research and solves the problem. The quantitative research method is basically important in the sense that it focuses on collecting data for numerical and statistical analysis (Baker 2010, p.5). A factor like approach depicted in the inventory management and Starbucks operations can hardly be expounded on using a sequence of numerical analytical research assumptions.

According to Chu and Huang (2010, p.130), the qualitative technique is a multi-method including interpretative and naturalistic research approaches. This implies that a research that is qualitative in nature will study Starbucks operation and inventory management events within their natural sets. Since the study aims at exploring Starbucks operation and inventory management, it will focus on the motivating factors behind the adopted management strategies. Given that quite a number of Starbucks operation and inventory management tend to gauge the number stores in operation, the supply chain and inventory networks, the quantitative research technique was deemed to be more appropriate. Model such as Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) was used in analyzing inventory management.

Data collection

This particular research study will use secondary data. Relevant secondary information and data on Starbucks operation and inventory management were collected from books, articles and journals. Previous research studies conducted on this topic were also obtained from databases such EDGAR, ProQuest and Emerald.

Findings, discussion and analysis

Divisional and Store Organizational Structure

The Starbucks organizational structure seems to be relatively flat but functional. This works well within the environs where Starbucks retail sales take place. From the Diagram below, every Starbucks store has both the assistant and store managers (Starbucks Corporation 2010). Below the assistant managers are the shift supervisors who are subordinated by several baristas.

Typical shift hierarchy for Starbucks Corporation

Typical shift hierarchy for Starbucks Corporation

The corporation’s organization materializes to be comparatively elevated. The Division managers are placed above the stores managers and they control nearly 14 locations. The regional operational manager heads both the divisional as well as stores managers. Corporate communications follow the hierarchical channel to reach Starbucks stores. Only a single person is deemed responsible to open the store each morning. Most of the work preparations and cleaning are carried out at night. The number of work partners increases from two to three between 6am and 7 am but decrease immediately after 10.30 am. The baristas are held accountable for cleaning seating areas, condiment areas, work areas and counters so as to uphold Starbucks “Third place” atmosphere which the corporation aims to achieve (Quelch, 2006). The policies recommended by Starbucks necessitates that partners should switch errands nearly after thirty minutes.

Operations control systems

The strategic operations at Starbucks are geared towards serving customized products to the clients in an efficient way and maintaining high profitability and quality levels. Starbucks employs various controls and systems to realize this goal a majority of which are particularly dictated and designed by the Seattle’s corporate office.

Irrespective of being widely known as a food and beverage retailer, a larger quantity of information technology (IT) is utilized by Starbucks in its operations. Every computer system within Starbucks stores is meant to perform a key role in the provision of vital info to run the operations of the store in better way. All registers are linked electronically to the managerial office computers. Like in all chain stores where information technology is widely used to manage operations (Simchi-Levi et al. 2009, p.245), Starbucks uses computers with connections to the satellite systems which permit it to incessantly communicate to corporate headquarters and every individual in the stores. The Starbucks divisional and store managers obtain updated information from the computer systems and they can access such info nearly each moment. In fact, the computer systems permit Starbucks management to constantly examine inventory levels, expenses, costs and sales besides allocating the direct labour hours on the basis of the prospective levels of sales.

Given that recent sales trends and historical sales levels are documented in Starbucks computer systems, future sales can be estimated and demands analyzed for a particular time or period. Future sales expectations and past sales are used by Starbucks computer systems to establish the optimal labour hours’ allocation for a specific shift. The computer systems outputs are primarily used to determine the number of workers required for every shift. This can just be superseded thru altering the prospective sales potentials (Taylor, 2012). The labour allocation systems permit Starbucks stores to minimize the pricey overtime operating expenses thru estimating the workers number that is required each time.

To preserve customer experience, atmospheric and appearance uniformity, the Seattle headquarters exercise numerous controls over sole retail stores including the stores designs and layouts. The layouts for the stores are decided by the headquarters so as to uphold stores uniformity. Every store receives a layout sheet wherever interior stores arrangements or new products are launched. Work partners in the stores thereafter work in reorganizing the retail stores founded on the novel layout for the stores. Moreover, the manner in which retail items, beverages and pastries are organized in the exhibition areas are established by the company plan (Starbucks Corporation 2010). This is to warrant that whichever retail store a client gets into, the unique product selection, atmosphere and layout for Starbucks is maintained.

A control technique dubbed as TQM (total quality management) is used by Starbucks in building process quality. Starbucks has taken and gained a strategic directive in controlling the whole production channels. There is vertical integration at Starbucks whereby the company exercises immense control over the purchasing of the whole raw bean, grading and roasting. Control by Starbucks is also observed in preparing the products, distributing coffee bean inventories and the final end user product delivery. Processing plants supply beans to all regional Starbucks stores. Most retail stores objects and stuffs are dully supplied through centralized distributors and manufacturers.

Starbucks being regarded as the largest buyer of products namely bagels, pastries and milk, has been capable of leveraging its purchasing power and position to secure from suppliers favorable terms. This guarantees that Starbucks stores are capable of accomplishing their needs at high quality inputs and with vast scale performance continuity. Starbucks products are often ordered from the local vendors lists as tendered by the area administration. It is worth noting that the regional managers are not supposed to bid out the individual supply deals or even sustain such correlations. However, the managers are capable of supplementing the local establishments purchases to the suppliers when need arises.

Product quality is further ensured via the procedure drawn on when maintaining pastry freshness and brewing coffee beverages. Whenever a coffee batch is brewed, there is an attachment of the sixty minute timer. The unused coffee quantity is labeled immediately when timer expires and consequently thrown out. Starbucks pastries are similarly swiveled during the day and the breakfast pastries having shorter shelves lifespan are delineated then discarded by latest 5 pm.

Their places are stuffed with desert pastries and snacks. The latter pastries usually stay a bit longer which could even be few days. To maintain the Starbucks demanded quality level, any pastry whose shelf life has expired is discarded. Whereas sales opportunity costs and definite wastes materialize based on such resolutions, Starbucks Corporation prefers satisfying the clients instead of sacrificing product qualities with substandard products.

Starbucks inventory management

To adequately manage its store level inventory, Starbucks draw on EOQ system and the P-system. The schemes aid Starbucks to curtail stock declines and redundant ravage. Programmed computer are used to track inventories at sales point registers. Most of Starbucks inventory ordering and shipments assume two ways. P-system is used in the retinal stores. Behind 7-days the Starbucks orders are placed with a interim time to be received of approximately 3-days. A 15 % over stock is placed on the whole Starbucks inventory to warrant the clients demands are met. The Economic order quantity is placed daily with a lead tie of forty eight hours.

The company operations strategies are aimed at providing the customers with customized products in an efficient and effective way. The main objective is to maintain the highest level of quality and profitability. In order to achieve these objectives, the company applies various control tools and systems with the majority designed specifically to control the flow of stocks that will ensure quality delivery of the services.

Even though the company is in food and coffee retail business, it has incorporated to a large extent the application of new information technology in most of its operations (Reavis, 2004). Each of the company stores has a computerized system that plays a vital role in providing key information that is highly essential in the proper management of these stores. The system allows the store managers to monitor among other things the inventory levels, sales movements, costs and the expenses.

Starbucks is in the retail industry and therefore deal with both product and services inventories. In retail business, quality services are very essential for the growth of the business. Quality service is vital requirement for the customer loyalty. During normal retail business hours, the suppliers may come with deliveries (Quelch, 2006). In such cases, the retailers will temporarily not attend to the customers to handle the deliveries.

It is apparent that handling both the customer and deliveries at the same time would be difficult for the retailers. Starbucks being in the retail business must devise ways through which such kind of inventory managements can be sorted out. This explains why Starbucks have adopted the new tools of inventory management such as the RFID. The retail chain of coffeehouses, Starbucks requires Radio-frequency identification technology to address the retail customer services and inventory control dilemmas.

As a business that is in both services and products, managing inventories is quit different from that of the manufacturing firm. In the inventory management, calculating and analyzing the batch cycle time, work in progress, hourly capacity and the throughput rate will focus on more than the time it takes to fill the customer order.

The order cycle time is determined by the number and the type of items ordered. The order cycle time depends on whether the order can quickly be filled or if the order will flow easily through the system. Naturally, tight orders normally take less time as compared to non-tight orders. In fact the batch cycle is determined by the quantity of products that are ordered (See appendix for the tables).

The capacity of the system derived from bottleneck cycle point of approximately thirty two seconds (0.53 minutes) is nearly 115 drinks per hour. The average work in progress is seen to be 5 orders which lead to output charge of 2.64 minutes. Under the period of observation, five minutes was the longest time for a batch cycle while the batch cycle median period was 2.68 minutes. All computations are derived from a single employee who works the bottleneck. An addition of the second employee was added to a machine producing cappuccino, there was an improvement in the cycle period to 0.29 minutes. The throughputs scale was 1.45 minutes and system production capacity increased to 209 drinks in any given hour.


The company must improve its operations through widening its the scope and pleading to numerous clientele. Most of the company customers are relatively highly affluent, highly educated, and technologically savvy and have interests in arts. Therefore the global mass marketing strategies must focus on these target customers. The company stores must consider the various times when numerous activities are taking place. Therefore in times such as afternoon and during the cold seasons stocks must always be maintained at the required levels so as to avoid chances of poor services delivery. Keeping the required stock levels during busy times will be essential in improving the quality which in turn will attract more customers.

The other important operation management areas that the company need to improve on includes offering healthy pastries or sandwiches, different kinds of roasted coffee, and changing the overall appearance of the stores to provide free space for movements. Improving the operation management and excelling in the areas that have been mentioned will make the company increase its market share, improve its productivity and profitability.


The study indicates that operations and inventory management is key to improved quality of the company products. In fact, inventory management is central in the overall operation management in any given firm. There is also a clear indication that effective inventory management will have a positive effect on all business functions. In essence, proper inventory management will result into the general improved quality of the firms products that will contributes to the increased market share improved productivity and high profitability.