Starbucks aims to woo China workers, parents

LOS ANGELES/BEIJING Wed Apr 18, 2012 4:14pm EDT

The old Starbucks logo is seen on a coffee store in Paris March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The old Starbucks logo is seen on a coffee store in Paris March 8, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

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LOS ANGELES/BEIJING (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp (SBUX.O) wants to make its mainland China expansion a family affair.

The world's biggest coffee chain is opening cafes in China at a rate of one every four days in its quest to expand from about 570 shops today to more than 1,500 by 2015.

To get there, it will need to recruit thousands of employees, many of whom have extraordinarily close ties to their parents, due to the country's one-child rule.

So this week, Starbucks is hosting China store managers and their parents -- about 1,100 in all -- at getting-to-know-you events in Beijing and Shanghai.

Chinese parents are known for doing anything they can to help their children succeed, whether at work or in love, and in doing so give America's hands-on "helicopter parents" a run for their money.

In his pitch to Chinese parents in Beijing on Wednesday, Starbucks Chief Executive Howard Schultz said: "As we expand our footprint across China, we are committed to sharing our success and continue to grow together with them and their families."

Schultz, a well-known U.S. executive, is no stranger to recruiting and makes frequent appearances at China universities as part of the company's ongoing hiring efforts.

Still, he said the China events are a first for Starbucks.

"This is about showing respect" to Chinese families and demonstrating "why we are a different type of company," Schultz told Reuters in an interview leading up to the events.

Finding the right managers and staff in China is "very, very difficult," said Paul French, chief China analyst at market research firm Mintel.

The Seattle-based Starbucks currently has about 10,000 employees in China and is competing with numerous chains for those skilled workers.

The company's rivals in China include Britain's Costa Coffee (WTB.L), South Korean-owned bakery chains Paris Baguette and Tous Les Jours, and Pacific Coffee, which is majority-owned by Hong Kong-listed China Resources Enterprise Ltd (0291.HK).

McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) sells coffee in the market, where it also is growing rapidly, and U.S. coffee chains Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN.O) and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf also have China expansion plans.

Starbucks appears to have an edge over some rivals in China, some experts said. It invests in training and its employees are efficient, consistent, cheerful and often speak some English.

It has the additional advantage of being a well-known international company in a nation where parents care about brand recognition, said James Roy, senior analyst at China Market Research, a Shanghai-based consultancy.

"Parents are a good stakeholder to get onboard in terms of employee happiness," said Roy, who added that many young Chinese workers live with parents, who may want them home for dinner and not working too hard.

(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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