Last Updated on 7 July 2021

POINT: Paul Williams

The secret to clutter-free in-store programs is discipline.

The discipline to say No.

As a marketer at Starbucks we were responsible for building in-store programs. Our first step was to take a look at the inventory of products and programs and craft an engaging experience for customers.

During any promotional period would be a featured: hot or cold beverage, whole bean coffee, food item, merchandise offerings… And later also music CDs, and a Starbucks Card.

From an Operational perspective we also had employee training or sales programs that would take-up “mindshare.”

As you can imagine, each and every product manager wanted their product or program to be featured front-and-center.

That would have been a mess.

To prevent that, the marketing team would assume the role of air traffic controller… Only one key product or program on the runway at a time. The others, sit idle, awaiting their focus.

When someone gave in – perhaps got weak – allowing more than one central focus… we always paid for it. It caused distractions, diluted the message, confused customers, and compromised sales. Created clutter.

So, yes… discipline is a key.


Collaboration and constant connection is key to designing and implementing in-store marketing programs that deliver results and get the buy-in from the Operations team.

At Starbucks, the Operations team is the gatekeeper for almost everything that impacts store-level employees (baristas). Picture a funnel with a wide opening and a narrow spout. The Operations team at Starbucks is the narrow spout. Not all programs in the wide opening of the funnel make it through the narrow spout. The programs that did get through the narrow spout received full blessing from Starbucks Operations.

For example… if the Product Category team wanted to place Starbucks Mint Tins at the main POS, the Operations team needed to give their approval.

If the Beverage team wanted to instruct baristas on which drinks to sample on which days, the Operations team needed to be involved in the design and the communication of the sampling calendar.

If the Marketing team wanted to promote Coffee Tastings in-store, then the Operations team would need to be heavily involved in everything from customer-facing signage… to in-store layout of the coffee tasting area… to passing out of drink coupons & whole bean samples… and to all employee-facing instructions on how to do a coffee tasting.

Collaborating with gatekeepers in Operations is crucial for retail marketers to design and deliver effective in-store marketing programs.

Connecting with Operations during every phase of the design of the in-store marketing program is also crucial. My experience tells me Operations does not like surprises. Connecting with Operations on points about the in-store marketing program helps to minimize surprises.

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