As regional vice president for Starbucks over seven years in Chicago for the Midwest, Sumitro Ghosh oversaw almost 600 stores and $800 million in annual sales. Two years into his job as CEO of the joint venture Tata Starbucks, which has been around five years and operates 103 stores across six cities it may seem like a smaller market but Ghosh tells Fortune India how India has shaped up and why it's going to be key in the future.
Fortune India: How is India different from other Starbucks markets?
Ghosh: India is our fastest growing emerging market and shall be a top five market for Starbucks in the long term. Food plays an important role in what Indian consumers seek, and we brought in international favorites like croissants as well as local flavors like murg kathi rolls, tandoori paneer sandwiches and alphonso frappucinos. Another unique thing in India is that the peak of the business is in the afternoon into the evening. In other markets there is a peak in the morning where customers get coffee and food on their way to work. In India, beyond the product, the customer looks at Starbucks as a place where they can meet friends, catch up with family, have meetings.
Fortune India: Your biggest challenge here?
It continues to be the right real estate. Our customers and partners have high expectations and the location, size and environment of our stores are critical. We have to be patient, explore many possible opportunities before we choose the best locations to express the brand.This takes more time as well as the number of possible sites we investigate to open a single store is more than other markets.
Fortune India: Why have you waited so long to launch in Kolkata, where the real estate is cheaper as well there's no shortage of coffee drinkers?
India has seen the fastest rollout of stores in Starbucks' history, in any market. We are and have been continuously evaluating new cities that we can be present in beyond the six cities we are in currently and are now delighted to continue our expansion in the country by introducing Starbucks to Kolkata early next year, starting with three stores including one at the iconic Park Mansion.
Fortune India: As an incoming CEO, what are the learnings in this market and also what have you brought in to it?
The Starbucks culture has been imported into the country and our partners have pride, and engagement with the brand. In 2016, we instituted a five-day work schedule, down from the country's customary six-day work week - a first-of-its-kind which provides partners with an additional 52 personal days off per year. In India, we also love our tea. Earlier this year, to elevate our customers’ tea experience we introduced Teavana, which offers a modern reimagined tea experience. We are also the first major retailer in India to offer customers a mobile payment option linked to a loyalty program.
Fortune India: How many employees or as you call them partners, do you have now? How many of those are women?
We have a strong network of more than 1500 partners who are our biggest assets, right at the heart of our business and contribute to our success. We aim to double the number of partners over the next five years and continue to be a leader in diversity in our partner base growing our female partners to 40% by 2022. We are at 25% today.
Fortune India: You had 48,000 loyalty program members a couple years ago.. how much has that grown by?
At Starbucks, the digital experience is a foundational part of a customer experience. Since the introduction of the My Starbucks Rewards program in 2014, more than 320,000 customers have joined and are earning Stars and receiving benefits as members.