Most mornings, Cliff Burrows orders a Starbucks double tall nonfat extra-dry cappuccino before heading to his office at the ubiquitous coffee chain's Seattle headquarters. As president of the Americas, he is responsible for all stores in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Latin America. Burrows joined the company in 2001 as managing director of the United Kingdom, after 19 years with a home-furnishings chain there. He would later oversee U.S. operations for Starbucks during the recession, when the company shuttered 800 stores. Now, the company is on the upswing, expanding in the United States and internationally. A recent Seattle Times profile noted that Burrows brought in an efficiency expert to figure out how baristas could better juggle their multistep drink orders. Starbucks also began steaming milk in separate, smaller mugs to improve taste and freshness while cutting the time it takes to make them. Burrows was in Houston for the Starbucks Global Leadership Conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Toyota Center. He took a few minutes to talk shop. Edited excerpts follow.
How would you say Starbucks is doing?
The last time we held a conference was in New Orleans in 2008 and it was a low point in the economy. We made tough decisions about closing stores and we really strengthened our relationship with our customers. We've really gotten back to the core of our business around our coffee, our espresso and our people. This year through June we've opened 200 new stores in the United States and we're also opening stores in Canada, Mexico and South America. We only have about 50 stores in Brazil, but that country has a tremendous future. We plan to continue to open stores. But it has to be the right store, and it's one at a time.
You recently began selling online the single-serve coffee and espresso maker Verismo. How is it doing?
We're very encouraged by online sales. It has exceeded expectations. We'll be launching it in more than 4,300 U.S. stores. The drinks it makes are absolutely tremendous. The breakthrough with the machine is with the milk, the way it foams and the mouth-feel of the milk. Part of our reason for being in Houston is to launch it with our managers and let them try out the machines.
Will we see more retail products like Verismo in the future?
Innovation is so important to us. In 2009, we introduced ready-brew instant coffee. This summer we introduced Refreshers, energy drinks made from green coffee extract. We make them hand-crafted, sell them in cans and as instant beverages. Our innovation is ongoing.
How is your partnership with the Square payment system going?
Square is extremely exciting for us. Eighteen months ago, we launched our internal payment Starbucks Card for iPhones and Androids and it was very well received. Square payment is an opportunity to extend that opportunity further. In coming years, digital payment will just continue to increase. We see a huge movement.