Starbucks Succeeds with Drive-Thru Coffee

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Starbucks Succeeds with Drive-Thru Coffee

SEATTLE -- The world's largest specialty coffee chain once shunned the drive-thru concept, fearing it might alienate customers who like to come inside and have their coffee while listening to music in cozy chairs. But, the end of fiscal 2005, which ended Oct. 2, marked the first time drive-thrus comprised more than half of Starbucks' new company-operated stores not licensed in airports, hotels, etc., reported The Los Angeles Times.

After realizing customers wanted a drive-thru concept, the company started testing out the market in 1994, opening its first drive-thrus in Southern California. Within a few years, the company had expanded the concept to dozens of stores, according to the report.

"We have a habit of giving customers what they want, and when a customer has six kids in their car or their favorite pets and it's raining or snowing, that's creating an experience for them that will want to make them use a drive-thru," said Jim Donald, Starbucks' president and chief executive.

The company would not disclose how much drive-thrus have boosted its revenues, though Donald said in general, they tend to post higher first-year sales, averaging about $1 million, compared to roughly $715,000 for traditional stores.

After its initial test, the company had 170 stores and counting by 2001, and opened 354 drive-thrus in the U.S. during its latest fiscal year, pushing its nationwide total to 1,065 -- nearly 15 percent of its roughly 7,300 domestic stores, according to the report.

The company now has drive-thrus in every state but Vermont and Wyoming. Internationally, Canada has 35 drive-thrus, and there are nine in Japan, four in Mexico and one each in Puerto Rico and Indonesia.

Drive-thrus will continue to add to Starbucks' bottom line, making up about half of the new stores the company opens domestically over the next few years, Donald said.