updated 2/21/2008 5:58:40 PM ET 2008-02-21T22:58:40

Starbucks Corp. said Thursday it has laid off about 220 support staff who worked at the coffee retailer's headquarters and in field operations, and will leave about 380 open jobs unfilled.

Chairman and Chief Executive Howard Schultz announced the 600 job cuts in an e-mail to Starbucks' more than 170,000 employees, calling it a difficult decision aimed at sharpening the company's focus on customers.

"We realize that we are operating in an intensely challenging environment, one in which our customers and (employees) have extremely high expectations of Starbucks," Schultz wrote. "And we have to step up to the challenge of being strategic as well as nimble as our business evolves. Unfortunately, we have not been organized in a manner that allowed us to have a laser focus on the customer."

The vast majority of laid-off employees worked in the U.S. — about one-third at the company's Seattle headquarters and the rest in regional field offices. Support staff include people who work on marketing, finance and supply-chain management.

None of the cuts include baristas or store managers, and none of the jobs being left open include store employees, Starbucks spokeswoman Valerie O'Neil said.

Starbucks, which has been struggling amid a faltering economy, its own rapid growth and increased competition from cheaper rivals, also said it will replace its East and West divisions with four new ones: Western/Pacific, Northwest/Mountain, Southeast/Plains and Northeast/Atlantic.

The moves are the latest in a series of changes Starbucks has made since it fired its previous CEO, Jim Donald, and gave the job back to Schultz in early January.

Starbucks will open hundreds fewer U.S. stores this year than initially planned, is closing about 100 poorly performing domestic stores and ramping up its expansion overseas.

David Palmer, an analyst with UBS Equity Research, called the layoffs a visible step toward removing bureaucracy and lowering costs.

"We believe that Starbucks margins are set to expand as it slows unit growth and minimizes overhead," Palmer wrote in a research note Thursday.

Starbucks recently announced that it will quit selling warm breakfast sandwiches by this fall, in part because the egg, cheese, bacon and ham competed with the coffee aroma in stores.

Last week, Starbucks unveiled plans to start offering limited free wireless Internet service for the first time, ending a six-year partnership with T-Mobile — which only offered a paid subscription service — and switching to AT&T Inc.

Soon after Schultz was brought back as CEO, the company shuffled several top management jobs and created some new posts, including a chief creative officer who will lead efforts to improve the experience customers have in the stores.

Schultz has promised that more changes will be announced at the company's annual meeting on March 19.

Starbucks shares slipped 43 cents, or 2.4 percent, to close at $17.83 on Thursday, then rose 31 cents in after-hours trading. The company's stock has lost more than half its value since late 2006, when it was trading at close to $40 a share.

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