I own and operate a coffee roastery as well as two retail locations in K--. I don't normally comment on articles such as yours but this time I can't help myself.
In the coffee world there are two types of people, coffee people who minor in business (us) and those who are business people that minor in coffee (s.bucks). Unfortunately for us coffee people, there are far too many people like yourself who are wanna bes who just don't get it. Coffee is not about a shiny cup, it is about a quality product inside the cup.
Too many hours to count go into my product in the hopes that more people will get it than don't. To those that get it kudos to them, for those that don't then too bad for you for you are more than likely a follower in all aspects in life and easily herded. It is too easy to look at every situation from a business perspective, coffee should not be one of them.
There is a huge difference in product quality between coffee establishments run from a boardroom and those operated by people who are truly passionate and knowledgeable about their product. Boardrooms decide how to increase profit margins by decreasing product quality, all the while fully understanding that people like yourself will never even notice because you are so busy staring at all the shiny things on the shelves and trying not to talk to anyone.
Those of us who make up the top five percent of the real coffee world are at the same time trying to decide the best way to increase the quality of our product in the hopes of really making a lasting impact on our profession. A banana frap has no place in a coffee shop, if you feel the need to drink them then go ahead, just understand that you're comments hold no relevance in the real coffee world.
Instead of writing a coffee column perhaps you should focus on what seems to interest you more. Procedure automation and marketing ploys 101.
Um, interesting comments, I agree with much of it, I'm wondering what I wrote that set you off so much? Let me know, please.
Wow, sometimes I guess everyone has a bad day. I sincerely apologize for my personal comments, I do however firmly believe in everything else I wrote. Although it may have sounded like it, I am not a disgruntled independent coffee shop owner, in fact I really love my job and I have never expected anyone to like my coffee based solely on the fact that I am local and independent. Our motto is "don't like us cuz we're local -- love us cuz we're better."
My frustration comes from the fact that some of us are doing some really worthwhile quality-driven things in the coffee world that set us so far apart from the "usual suspects" that to be even grouped in the same category is off base. I definitely feel that everyone is entitled to spend their money where they wish, I only ask that those who want to write about coffee educate themselves properly by researching those who are the true leaders in this field.
Some of what you said in your article is definitely true, i.e. independents raising the bar for themselves in the other facets of a business (cleanliness etc.) is something that should be addressed. Obviously there are many factors that go together in order to be successful and appealing.
I just believe that attempting to produce the highest quality product is the most important. Ironically I became a huge Schultz fan after reading his book two years ago, in fact I encourage everyone in the coffee business to read it. It is a company that was originally grounded and driven by its passion for coffee, unfortunately it has subsequently become a slave to marketers and accountants who have to answer to shareholders and therefore should be discussed in the business pages and not coffee forums.
Once again I apologize for my personal attacks, this will be the first and last time I discuss coffee in this way. If you feel like replying feel free I would gladly discuss other coffee topics with you. If you are ever in K-- drop in and I will spot you a coffee.
Don't worry about the personal stuff, I'm a big boy and I can give as good as I get. It's clear you're passionate about your coffee, which is admirable. I'm still not exactly sure which article of mine you saw, I'm guessing it was the one I did a while ago on Starbucks and the impact it's had on independent operations such as yourself.
If I remember correctly I said -- or tried to say -- that the great benefit of Starbucks is how they set the floor for acceptability of coffee, for not only coffee quality but the overall customer experience. This is, of course, franchising's great contribution to raising the quality of the customer experience: a franchise sets the minimum standards.
Coffee quality first: In America before Starbucks, if you went out to a decent restaurant, even a rather pricey one, and ordered coffee you were liable to get burner-scalded ditchwater. I used to wait tables at a fine white-table restaurant in Washington, D.C., entrees $25 a pop, I know whereof I speak. Sometimes I'd talk the people out of ordering the coffee, or not charge them for it, I felt so bad about the lousy quality. Now as a general rule you get good coffee in such places. It's something that, thanks to Starbucks, restaurants are paying attention to now. Heck, even McDonald's is trying to upgrade their legendarily bad swill.
My point in the article I think you saw was that if you're offering at least as good quality coffee and customer experience as Starbucks, you don't have much to worry about if a Starbucks opens down the street. You and I agree, as you say independents need to raise the bar overall. Yes, the bar here is the overall customer experience, not simply the java. Which must be slightly irritating to you as coffeeheads like yourself focus on the quality of the warm brown liquid itself, whereas I and most coffee shop patrons focus on the quality of the overall customer experience.
You were right in your first e-mail when you deduced that my profession is writing about customer satisfaction and relationship issues and, tangentially, marketing issues. I use coffee shops frequently as examples since they're the finest microcosms of customer service I know of, the white rats, fruit flies and Petri dishes of Customer Relationship Management.
You say you're not a business guy, you're a coffee guy. Great. We need more coffee guys. But a coffee shop isn't a laboratory, it's a social setting attracting people for different reasons. If the coffee's bad you're not going to be successful, no matter what else you do. And I hate to break the news to you, but while most of us -- again, thanks to Starbucks -- now know good from bad coffee, we still can't tell the difference between good and great coffee. But we can tell the difference between a good and bad customer experience.
Obviously you have a much finer palate for coffee than the rest of us, for you it's the actual beverage that's the important part of a coffee shop experience. You remind me of my best friend from D.C., Paul. We always had the hardest time going out to restaurants because he was as discerning about food as I am about music. We'd try six or seven places before we found one where the menu satisfied Paul -- I'm relatively indifferent as long as it's not Japanese -- and the volume, genre and quality of music and general atmosphere were acceptable to me.
We were both about having a good experience in a restaurant, what was important to each of us is what determined the quality of our experience, and the restaurant which paid attention to the overall experience, which offered acceptably good food, atmosphere and service got our dollars. Paul would walk out of a restaurant if the smell was off, and I'm not talking about rotting fish, I'm talking about the smells emanating from the kitchen discernable only to poodles and Siamese cats. You think I'm kidding. Other restaurants I could tell from the sound waves on the sidewalk I wouldn't like, so we wouldn't bother going in. The wonder is that we didn't starve.
So for you a cup of finely-roasted, properly brewed coffee is the thing. You'd probably have a good experience with a cup of first-quality coffee in the Internal Revenue Service's waiting room. For most of the rest of us customers, who simply can't taste what you can in a cup of coffee, the overall experience depends on the atmosphere, and yes the quality of the coffee being up to a minimum standard of acceptability, as well as things like the furniture, the books and magazines, whether the tables wobble or not, the other patrons, the décor, music, the staff, et al.
What Starbucks gets right is what any successful franchise -- Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, the Church of England -- gets right: they always hit the customer's minimum standards. Walk into a Starbucks you know it's not going to have lumpy, uncomfortable furniture, it'll have good lighting, the music won't be terribly good or bad but sufficient background. The service will be competent and the coffee drinkable. If you want a relaxing afternoon, meeting friends or working on a laptop, that's all you're ask for.
Yes there is better coffee than Starbucks to be had. Yes there are better bookstores than Barnes & Noble, yes there is better preaching than that generally offered by the Church of England, but when you walk into one of those places, you know basically what you're going to get. Competing coffee shops, bookstores and churches around one of those outlets needs to be at least that good. If they're not, well, they probably don't deserve to be in business in the first place and aren't going to last long.
There's a reason franchising took off after World War II, when we built interstate highways in America: If you're on the road, which Americans were, exponentially so, after interstates, and you don't know the local quality, you know you can always go to a familiar franchise and have something acceptably good. It might not be the best quality to be had in the area, but you know you won't get nasty surprises wasting your money.
(For a parallel think of beer brands. They're nothing but reliable franchises to opt for instead of taking a flier on the local brew.)
If everyone stayed in the same place their whole lives there would be no reason for a franchise, everyone would know the quality local places, because if a franchise outlet is the finest coffee, food, books or preaching to be had in your area, then it's fair to assume the quality of such was pretty low before the franchise showed up.
Which, in America, before Starbucks, local coffee quality was and, too many times the overall local coffee shop experience. One highly underreported consequence of Starbucks is not how just coffee quality among independents has improved, but what better quality tables, chairs, et al you now find in them.
It drives people like you nuts, I know, and mystifies you to no end why coffee quality isn't the deciding factor – "But my coffee's so much better than that Free Thai Massage Coffee Shop's, I can't understand why they're more crowded." But it isn't. I learned this running a coffee shop on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey for a year.
Because a coffee shop isn't selling coffee, it's selling a pleasant customer experience. If you're just selling coffee all your orders are to go, right? Your customers enjoy your high-quality coffee, but they want to enjoy, or at least not be turned off by, the tables, artwork, music, staff, meeting friends temperature – more than once I've had to walk out of coffee shops here in Istanbul which are so hot I'm uncomfortable.
It's not uncommon to refer to the cup of Starbucks coffee you buy on your way in as your "table rental." I maintain Starbucks could save on overhead by simply selling one-hour table rentals, forget the cup of coffee they now dole out to people who just want a table.
Yes the coffee has to be good in any coffee shop, but only acceptably so. It does not have to be the best. The overall experience is what draws customers to your coffee, except in rare cases your coffee does not draw them to the overall experience.
Because, really, for most of us appreciating coffee is maybe, at most, half the quality of the coffee itself, and at least half what you call the "shiny cup" customer satisfaction issues of atmosphere and service quality. For coffee quality to be 90 percent of the satisfaction is unusual. Most of us will enjoy a cup of average quality coffee in highly pleasant surroundings more than a cup of gourmet-quality java in a bus terminal.
The ideal, of course, is someone with your coffee sensibilities and taste running the beverage side, someone like me taking care of the atmosphere and Paul in the kitchen and ordering the muffins and whatever. John, Paul and Dave's Coffee Shop. We could call it Where's George and Ringo?
Since you're both a roaster and a retailer you have to hold down both sides of the business. It sounds like your heart's in the roasting, but your mortgage is paid from the retail. Kind of like a pharmacist having to sell lots of other stuff in his drug store -- it's not what he's into, but he has to do it to be able to do what he wants to do. As long as you pay attention to where your high-quality coffee fits in your customers' overall experience it sounds like you'll do fine.