I have been to almost every indy coffee shop in the Twin Cities, and I have talked with about half of the owners. I find it intersesting that most of them claim to have a unique shop that offers somthing different than anyone else. I want to know what the rest of the US is doing to truly be unique?

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Well... It's been my observation that most of the coffee buying public doesn't really know or care much about organic, fair trade, shade grown, rain forest alliance, and so on. By most I mean 85% to 90%. So, to grow your business in an "organic" way, I would educated your customers about coffee and espresso it's self. For example a huge part of the coffee buying public doesn't know what a coffee berry is or looks like. If you become an authority for your customers about things like proper brewing methods, how you make a perfect shot, proper grinding, how to use a french press. If you become an authority and educator for your customers they will start to become the best sales force that you can get. Now the challenge is to figure out how to do this effectivly in a drive thru only setting. I am sure that you can get creative.

Good luck and let me know what you think.


Red Leaf Coffee Co. said:
So how did the Experts give you an education while you were there? We are looking to do something like that realizing most of our customers know zero about espresso and zero about organic coffee. We are in a drive thru setting and wondered if we should put some info on a biz card ... I have some things about organic coffee on a flyer in the window.

Caleb said:
Sorry Jay, I can be a little inept at times... The reson that I posed this question in the first place is because I feel that most coffee shop owners seem to have a little bit of a jaded view about what they offer. We do have some truly outstand shops in the TC's and the owners of those shops have put their stake in the ground and laid claim to what they think a coffee shop should be. A great is example is a shop in south St. Paul, their claim is that they are the coffee experts in the metro, and in my opinion they deliver. You get an education about coffee when you go to this shop, and probably the best coffee in town. Another shop that I really like basically makes the claim that they are the hub of their neighborhood, and it's true, this is the place where everyone in that neighborhood goes and everyone knows everyone. This is a very rare concept in a major metropolitan area. So back to my origional point...most coffee shop owners think that they have done somthing really great... when all they have actually done is create another space that has bad art hanging on the walls, and missmatched furniture. In a space that happens to serve coffee.

Soooo.... the conversation that was hoping to start with all of this, is to find the people that have really raised the bar or should I say steam wand. So to answer your question completely Jay, I think that only about 5% of the shops/owners that I know have truly achieved what they set out to do in the begining. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion, and I'm not out the bash on anyone, I am just looking for exceptional and creative!

PS
sorry about my spelling... it's not so good

Jay Caragay said:
Actually Caleb, I was talking to you!

Since you said that you've been to almost every shop in the Twin Cities and talked with half of their owners - what did they think made their shops unique and stand out? Did their shops live up to their claims? How would you evaluate these shops that you've visited?
bravo alun! my faith in humanity is once again restored!
Victoria

Alun Evans said:
I think Jared's claim to difference is pretty unique! Our International School cafe employees only staff from underprivilleged backgrounds. We have one staff member who was living on a scavenger site before joining us, the rest are former streetkids and orphan, abandoned children. This idea came about because we had been working with a NGO which oversees some projects working with these groups. We were fortunate enough to employ some staff earlier on who really appreciated the opportunity to work and excelled with training at their jobs. Their commitment encouraged us to take a bigger step and staff an entire store with people from these various backgrounds. In Indonesia someone from a scavenger site has almost no chance of escaping the poverty cycle- no matter their ability. We are so glad we took these staff on- they have become almost like family to us. In all cases they have proven to have exceeded our expectations.
Thank you Victoria for bringing this post to my attention.
Alun, After reading this for my first time, I would go to work for you for no wages just to work for a company that put this kind of employment opportunity out there for these people. Talk about grass roots work. You Alun are in the serious trenches when it comes to working with third world poverty. This is where I aspire to.
JoeR
It's the vibe. Our slogan 'where good friends meet and new friends are made'. I became a coffee shop owner as a regular customer who saw some of the faults and more importantly some of the potential not being realized. So, as a newbie to the coffee shop business (3 years) ... let me propose a couple of things. I pondered where I go to coffee shops in various cities and why and then it occured to me that in almost every case the shop I went to wasn't the closest to me or the easiest to get to... so I pondered... 'why do I go there?" ... then I called every person I knew... literally... every single person I knew and I said... where do you go for your coffee? and then followed up with my observation about my own habits... and without exception every single person I asked came to the same conclusion. "The shop they go to isnt the closest one to them"... the reasons were many... but mostly I have to say 'it's the vibe'...

I can't tell you how many people have said oh I go here, but the coffee sucks... or the line is too long, or the tables outside are always dirty... or there is nowhere to sit... the music is took loud... and yet... they go...

It's familiar ... they know the person behind the counter... they have a favorite chair... a parking spot... they see the same people and strike up conversations... the reasons are many... but for the most part ... 'it's the vibe'...

People can over complicate this all they want... we all see giant chains with total crap product and the line is out the door... so it's NOT the product...

We have two shops that can literally see each other... you could walk from one to the other in about four minutes... they are two totally different vibes... one gets all the bartenders/waiters/waitresses and tradespeople... it's a little beat up. the other gets all the suits...

It's funny to watch sometimes... if somebody from one... visits the other. We're the same company... with the same product... but they're totally out of place...

So three years ago I started out by buying one shop from an owner that needed to sell for personal reasons... I spent a little time getting educated and in that time have opened three more shops... each... with it's own vibe and it's own group of customers...

Just sayin'

:)

Marek
Along the "vibe" line, I've got a slightly different take on it, but still within the same general line of thinking. I don't think it's so much the "vibe" as it is that a person knowingly or- probably just as often- unknowingly goes to a shop for a specific thing. Be it that one comfy chair or music theme or wall decorations or the cute person behind the counter... whatever. They find it at a shop once so they go back. Then they find that thing there again and again and again and they are hooked.

The best shops constantly study their customers and understand what it is that their customers want and don't force anything on them that they don't want. For example:

*Sux customers want consistency, speed and familiar surroundings for their experience. That's why you won't see a "barista" suggesting a SO Ethiopian espresso 'because it's at day 7 and the blueberry is really popping out today.' It would confuse and, probably, frustrate the customer. They sling out drinks quickly. They might get a huge line, but they are still moving that line right along. And the 7-8 *Sux that I have been in have all looked almost exactly the same. They know it's what their customers want and they do a great job of presenting it.

The first shop I worked at was in a small town (probably much like Joseph's). The owner didn't have the best product, the focus was more on the flavors added to the coffee than the flavors in the coffee itself, you know the shop. We weren't the fastest. We moved our furniture about once a month so the surroundings were never really that familiar. However, the owner studied the customers and knew that the experience they wanted was to feel "special." To be spoiled. It seems obvious and ridiculous at the same time, but people that have been to that shop would understand how this place was different. Knowing a customer's name and what they drink is one thing. Knowing what they drive and paying attention to what time they get in the shop everyday is another. I haven't worked in that shop for over 4 years and I can still tell you that Bonnie (who was the second customer of the day) drove a green GMC Jimmy for 2 years and then got a black Trailblazer. She got a 12oz regular cup of coffee, but always one of the flavored options. She liked Toasted Coconut the best (I think... that part is a little fuzzy... we had like 30 flavored coffees it was ridiculous) and she needed a little room for cream. I can also tell you that Kirk would be about 2 minutes behind her in line. He was a cop. He got a large caramel latte with 2 splendas. At 8:52 the phone would ring. It was Terry. She wanted to know what the flavors were for the day so she could grab coffee for the courthouse. We answered the phone "Hello Terry!" (and we didn't have caller ID). I could map out the whole morning, but you get the idea. The focus wasn't the coffee, it wasn't the atmosphere, it wasn't the music or the soup of the day... it was them. The customers. The customers were so regular and loyal that sometimes we would have people call ahead to say they were NOT coming in so that we wouldn't make their drink for them ahead of time. :0)

When I go to a shop, I want to be blown away by the coffee and there are shops out there that understand and market towards people like me. The big guys in this market are the places we all talk about endlessly on this site... Intelli, Stumptown, CC, etc etc etc. I don't need consistency (neccessarily) or speed (within reason) and certainly not familiar surroundings; I need my cup to be my experience. These places understand people like me. I want that SO Kenya even though 96% of the US would find it disgustingly acidic... a cup of Clover... to pay $8 for a cup of Geisha... whatever, you name it. Give me a coffee experience that I haven't had before and I'll be back to see if you can do it again. If you can, you've got a fan and a voice in the coffee world. Most of the people on this site are just like me, which is why you hear us mention the same shops over and over... they go after the "coffee people." They've studied us and our habits and know how to gain our business and we, in turn, do their advertising for them.

The shops that succeed best at "being different" or "set apart" are the ones that absolutely nail it when it comes to creating the experience that their customers want visit after visit. They are set apart to "their" customers. Those customers hang out with people that have similiar tastes and, therefore, that shop becomes "set apart" to a group of people. To loads and loads of people *Sux is where it's at. They are looking for things that *Sux can give them. I put *Sux in the same "crap" coffee group as a lot of other lower grade shops because I'm focused on the coffee and on that they don't deliver. But they aren't after me...

My opinion on the whole deal...
-bry
Thanks Bry,

Your insight is outstanding and insightful. I am interested in who big you think the "coffee geek" demographic is? It's been my observation that in the Twin Cities the geek group is rather small, and I find that odd because the data says that we are the 2nd largest market in the US. I don't know if thats true but I know that we have over 300 shops in all, including Caribou, SB and Dunn Bros. The coffee geek seems to be the customer that a lot of the indie shops claim to be going after, but in my opinion there are less than five indie shops that even scratch the surface or do an effective job of achieving that. Would you as a customer only be a customer of one of these shops... or would be a regular at a shop that does a better than average job with the cup... and has everything else going for it in terms of decor, staff, seating... Or, what if the place does amazing things with the cup, and is really bad at everything else, seating, parking, decor.

Thanks again everyone for the great conversation!

And Happy New Year to you all!

Caleb

Bryan Wray said:
Along the "vibe" line, I've got a slightly different take on it, but still within the same general line of thinking. I don't think it's so much the "vibe" as it is that a person knowingly or- probably just as often- unknowingly goes to a shop for a specific thing. Be it that one comfy chair or music theme or wall decorations or the cute person behind the counter... whatever. They find it at a shop once so they go back. Then they find that thing there again and again and again and they are hooked.

The best shops constantly study their customers and understand what it is that their customers want and don't force anything on them that they don't want. For example:

*Sux customers want consistency, speed and familiar surroundings for their experience. That's why you won't see a "barista" suggesting a SO Ethiopian espresso 'because it's at day 7 and the blueberry is really popping out today.' It would confuse and, probably, frustrate the customer. They sling out drinks quickly. They might get a huge line, but they are still moving that line right along. And the 7-8 *Sux that I have been in have all looked almost exactly the same. They know it's what their customers want and they do a great job of presenting it.

The first shop I worked at was in a small town (probably much like Joseph's). The owner didn't have the best product, the focus was more on the flavors added to the coffee than the flavors in the coffee itself, you know the shop. We weren't the fastest. We moved our furniture about once a month so the surroundings were never really that familiar. However, the owner studied the customers and knew that the experience they wanted was to feel "special." To be spoiled. It seems obvious and ridiculous at the same time, but people that have been to that shop would understand how this place was different. Knowing a customer's name and what they drink is one thing. Knowing what they drive and paying attention to what time they get in the shop everyday is another. I haven't worked in that shop for over 4 years and I can still tell you that Bonnie (who was the second customer of the day) drove a green GMC Jimmy for 2 years and then got a black Trailblazer. She got a 12oz regular cup of coffee, but always one of the flavored options. She liked Toasted Coconut the best (I think... that part is a little fuzzy... we had like 30 flavored coffees it was ridiculous) and she needed a little room for cream. I can also tell you that Kirk would be about 2 minutes behind her in line. He was a cop. He got a large caramel latte with 2 splendas. At 8:52 the phone would ring. It was Terry. She wanted to know what the flavors were for the day so she could grab coffee for the courthouse. We answered the phone "Hello Terry!" (and we didn't have caller ID). I could map out the whole morning, but you get the idea. The focus wasn't the coffee, it wasn't the atmosphere, it wasn't the music or the soup of the day... it was them. The customers. The customers were so regular and loyal that sometimes we would have people call ahead to say they were NOT coming in so that we wouldn't make their drink for them ahead of time. :0)

When I go to a shop, I want to be blown away by the coffee and there are shops out there that understand and market towards people like me. The big guys in this market are the places we all talk about endlessly on this site... Intelli, Stumptown, CC, etc etc etc. I don't need consistency (neccessarily) or speed (within reason) and certainly not familiar surroundings; I need my cup to be my experience. These places understand people like me. I want that SO Kenya even though 96% of the US would find it disgustingly acidic... a cup of Clover... to pay $8 for a cup of Geisha... whatever, you name it. Give me a coffee experience that I haven't had before and I'll be back to see if you can do it again. If you can, you've got a fan and a voice in the coffee world. Most of the people on this site are just like me, which is why you hear us mention the same shops over and over... they go after the "coffee people." They've studied us and our habits and know how to gain our business and we, in turn, do their advertising for them.

The shops that succeed best at "being different" or "set apart" are the ones that absolutely nail it when it comes to creating the experience that their customers want visit after visit. They are set apart to "their" customers. Those customers hang out with people that have similiar tastes and, therefore, that shop becomes "set apart" to a group of people. To loads and loads of people *Sux is where it's at. They are looking for things that *Sux can give them. I put *Sux in the same "crap" coffee group as a lot of other lower grade shops because I'm focused on the coffee and on that they don't deliver. But they aren't after me...

My opinion on the whole deal...
-bry
Hey Marek,

I really enjoyed your comments, my question for you is. Do you think that one shop, indipendant of course, is capable of being everything to all or most coffee shop customers? I ask this because there is a bar in Minneapolis that is an amazing melting pot of demographics. You can walk in to this place that is known for the bands that play there regularly, and stand next to a road hardend biker on side and a guy in a $500 suite on the other. Then a house wife in front of you with a 20 something group of frat brothers behind you. I realize that they are all there for the paticular band, but do you think that it is possible to create a coffee shop that is all things to all customers, or 90%? If you do think it's possible, what elements would have to be there?

Thanks for the great conversation!

Caleb

Marek said:
It's the vibe. Our slogan 'where good friends meet and new friends are made'. I became a coffee shop owner as a regular customer who saw some of the faults and more importantly some of the potential not being realized. So, as a newbie to the coffee shop business (3 years) ... let me propose a couple of things. I pondered where I go to coffee shops in various cities and why and then it occured to me that in almost every case the shop I went to wasn't the closest to me or the easiest to get to... so I pondered... 'why do I go there?" ... then I called every person I knew... literally... every single person I knew and I said... where do you go for your coffee? and then followed up with my observation about my own habits... and without exception every single person I asked came to the same conclusion. "The shop they go to isnt the closest one to them"... the reasons were many... but mostly I have to say 'it's the vibe'...

I can't tell you how many people have said oh I go here, but the coffee sucks... or the line is too long, or the tables outside are always dirty... or there is nowhere to sit... the music is took loud... and yet... they go...

It's familiar ... they know the person behind the counter... they have a favorite chair... a parking spot... they see the same people and strike up conversations... the reasons are many... but for the most part ... 'it's the vibe'...

People can over complicate this all they want... we all see giant chains with total crap product and the line is out the door... so it's NOT the product...

We have two shops that can literally see each other... you could walk from one to the other in about four minutes... they are two totally different vibes... one gets all the bartenders/waiters/waitresses and tradespeople... it's a little beat up. the other gets all the suits...

It's funny to watch sometimes... if somebody from one... visits the other. We're the same company... with the same product... but they're totally out of place...

So three years ago I started out by buying one shop from an owner that needed to sell for personal reasons... I spent a little time getting educated and in that time have opened three more shops... each... with it's own vibe and it's own group of customers...

Just sayin'

:)

Marek
I saw some pictures of a shop of which my cousin is a Facebook fan. This place has a single group, reservoir espresso machine (looked to be a Silvia, maybe, couldn't really tell). The barista had to pull a hose across to fill the reservoir. Had about 30 Monin flavors. The back counter, where most of us keep extra equipment, stock teas, etc., was non-existent. Had a hodge-podge of shelf units, holding a very unorganized selection of supplies. Customers sat at what used to be Mom's dining room table, complete with chairs, and the sofa you found at Goodwill. There was a bookcase, CRAMMED with some books and lots of board games, and not like a bookcase should look, more like what my little girls do when I tell them to clean their room. There was a kid's corner, with all those toys you see at yardsales, Fisher-Price, etc.

Not my choice of shop at all!

But they had almost 3000 FB fans!

And Mom's table was surrounded by high school kids.

So it takes all kinds. But pardon me if my "vibe" is a little different than what I described.
Hi Caleb;

Well if you think about your location as a person then the answer would be. "Be yourself", if you try to be all things to all people you will come off as fake. I agree with your comments about the customer base, most shops I frequent have clients that range from cops n' hookers to rich housewives and young turk players with money to burn and... everything in between... literally.

The flavor of the shop isn't the decor... it is the customes and staff themselves ... that's something that is very unique and falls into place with some skill and direction from the shop owner.

No matter what you do, you will have regulars that come three times a day.... and... people you will never be able to make happy ...

I know this is a strange answer, but it is 'the answer'. Do I want good coffee, absolutely... but I don't want a barista snob staring down at me... or staff eyeballing my style of dress... and there are shops like that... you walk in and they look at you like "WTF???"... and to me that makes it all about the Vibe.

If the shop is properly located, serves a need... the customers will show up... they will define your hours... what you serve... and don't... and ultimately what your establishment becomes... regardless of what your original plans might have been.

:)

Marek

Caleb said:
Hey Marek,


I realize that they are all there for the paticular band, but do you think that it is possible to create a coffee shop that is all things to all customers, or 90%? If you do think it's possible, what elements would have to be there?
Thanks Marek,

I think that you have a really solid grasp on all of this. As I continue on with my plans to become an owner I am sure that I will hear your words ringing in my head when it comes to making certain decisions.

I was wondering if you might know of any shops that really well done websites. I haven't come across any that I think are outstanding. I'm sure that there is a shop owner out there some where that is or was a web developer... let me know if you are aware of any... and thanks again for the conversation.

Let me know if you make it the Twin Cities

Caleb

Marek said:
Hi Caleb;

Well if you think about your location as a person then the answer would be. "Be yourself", if you try to be all things to all people you will come off as fake. I agree with your comments about the customer base, most shops I frequent have clients that range from cops n' hookers to rich housewives and young turk players with money to burn and... everything in between... literally.

The flavor of the shop isn't the decor... it is the customes and staff themselves ... that's something that is very unique and falls into place with some skill and direction from the shop owner.

No matter what you do, you will have regulars that come three times a day.... and... people you will never be able to make happy ...

I know this is a strange answer, but it is 'the answer'. Do I want good coffee, absolutely... but I don't want a barista snob staring down at me... or staff eyeballing my style of dress... and there are shops like that... you walk in and they look at you like "WTF???"... and to me that makes it all about the Vibe.

If the shop is properly located, serves a need... the customers will show up... they will define your hours... what you serve... and don't... and ultimately what your establishment becomes... regardless of what your original plans might have been.

:)

Marek

Caleb said:
Hey Marek,


I realize that they are all there for the paticular band, but do you think that it is possible to create a coffee shop that is all things to all customers, or 90%? If you do think it's possible, what elements would have to be there?
Hey Paul,

I see this happen way to often... I almost like a bad joke. I think the only other type of business that can exsist in such a ramchacle kind of way is the small auto repair shop that has been there for 40years and still has the origional coke machine from the day that opened. It amazes me when I walk into a coffee shop like the one you describe. My first thought is always... this is what some guy did money he got from an insurance settlement. It's like they never once considered the fact that they would actually have to make a product to sell to customers. I am all for modest beginings and doing things on a shoe string budget... but there has to be some kind of bar to measure against, they have to atleast look like they care or gave some thought to the shop. Any way... I feel and share your pain.

Thanks for sharing

Caleb

Paul Yates said:
I saw some pictures of a shop of which my cousin is a Facebook fan. This place has a single group, reservoir espresso machine (looked to be a Silvia, maybe, couldn't really tell). The barista had to pull a hose across to fill the reservoir. Had about 30 Monin flavors. The back counter, where most of us keep extra equipment, stock teas, etc., was non-existent. Had a hodge-podge of shelf units, holding a very unorganized selection of supplies. Customers sat at what used to be Mom's dining room table, complete with chairs, and the sofa you found at Goodwill. There was a bookcase, CRAMMED with some books and lots of board games, and not like a bookcase should look, more like what my little girls do when I tell them to clean their room. There was a kid's corner, with all those toys you see at yardsales, Fisher-Price, etc.

Not my choice of shop at all!

But they had almost 3000 FB fans!

And Mom's table was surrounded by high school kids.

So it takes all kinds. But pardon me if my "vibe" is a little different than what I described.
Caleb said:
...I was wondering if you might know of any shops that really well done websites. I haven't come across any that I think are outstanding. I'm sure that there is a shop owner out there some where that is or was a web developer... let me know if you are aware of any... and thanks again for the conversation.

I've seen some super-slick, professionally done websites, but most of those shops have now gone out of business. Perhaps that money would have been better spent elsewhere?

I think ours is pretty good, we did it ourselves using Yahoo's site builder. Check it out here: www.TheCoffeeGarden.net

This is one of the areas that I don't feel justifies much in the way of expense. As long as your site contains enough info to help a prospective customer find your store, you are good. Focus on getting good coverage by the various directories and search engines.

Good luck.

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