Doing some coffee math

Saw this a few days ago from @dontheideaguy.

I’m trying to figure out why every other place that sells beans or ground coffee doesn’t make a point of being happy to take ANY Starbucks bag (not just the “specially marked bags”), year-round.

Toss that old bag or make an example of it.

Staple it to the wall like a number on a scoreboard and sell that Starbucks bag totin’ person a bag of *your* coffee.

Lessee, give away a $2 (retail) cup of coffee while selling a $10-$15 bag of fresh roasted beans? OK, if I have to.

It isn’t just reading that’s fundamental. Math is too.

What local coffee shops can learn from SEC football

Makes no sense, I know. Bear with me, it’ll clear up shortly.

I want you to read this story about ESPN’s new network for Southeast Conference (SEC) football. Don’t wonder why (too much), just trust that there’s an applicable lesson here and go read it.

Wordsmithing

Now it’s time to do a little wordsmithing while re-reading the story.

As you read the Sports Illustrated story, do this for me:

  • when you read “football”, replace it with *whatever you do*
  • when you read “SEC”, replace it with your community’s name
  • when you read “NCAA” or “college football”, replace it with your national market.
  • when you read “Florida”, “LSU” or any other team name, replace it with your business’ name OR if you really want to turn things on their head – with your biggest competitor’s name.

…and continue along those lines so that it becomes a story about your market, your business and your competition.

All done?

Just in case, a sample

Let me give you a sample since I suspect some of you might have thought one read of a seemingly irrelevant story was enough.

To make things a tad more clear, let’s take that coffee shop I occasionally talk about and use it as an example:

“At the core of our agreement is the fact that every SEC-controlled football game mom and pop coffee shop will be have Starbucks coffee available to SEC Starbucks fans throughout the conference territory state, and indeed the country, via an ESPN our distribution platform or through our partners,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s Some Executive, Starbucks’ executive vice president for programming coffee shop acquisition and strategy.

At a time when most coffee shops and cafes are slashing budgets due to the poor economy, programs Starbucks stores suddenly have more resources at their disposal. Defending national champion Florida Starbucks stores is are adding $5.9 million to its athletic marketing budget next year and still had enough left over to kick in $6 million to cover overhead the university’s general fund.

Scary? Only if you’re the Big 12 or PAC-10 and you’re still reading the original article.

Snatch the pebble

If you truly are in the same business, your competitor’s strength is the target. Take it away and use it against them.

In Starbucks’ case, their strengths are their consistency (coffee is roasted in centralized warehouse roasting centers under highly-mechanized, controlled conditions), their retail/wholesale distribution systems and their buying power (ok, and their people, mostly).

Notice I didn’t say jack about insanely great, freshly-brewed coffee that was roasted by the owner just before the shop opened this morning.

Starbucks can no longer compete with that, or at least, they’re no longer willing to. Putting roasters in 4000 shops costs huge money (sorry, shareholders!) and takes up valuable retail space in those expensive locations they choose, plus they’d have to hire (or train) someone to do the roasting.

Suddenly, their strength is now their weakness, and you wield the Quality Kryptonite.

Update: Odd how these things travel in groups. What Harvard Business has to say about it, sorta.

Starbucks strikes back against “theft”

http://www.theswom.org/profiles/blogs/starbucks-is-ready-to-tell

It’s a nicely done video with just a small rough spot here and there. I like how Howard thanks his staff.

It’s certainly a good example of communicating your company’s values in ways other than organically.

It’s not theft when you give it away

Most interesting is the claim that that indie coffee shops (perhaps more accurately: McDonald’s) are stealing Starbucks’ story. You know, the story about the indie, perhaps even quirky, coffee shop that does it all while you watch.

The story Starbucks gave away in exchange for stock certificates, warehouses and cookie cutter stores.

Back in prehistoric times before there were 4 bazillion Starbucks stores, before conference calls with Wall Street, they did the things that indies have always done.

Now, they compete with McDonald’s for the McCoffee market and they buy, roast and ship prefab coffee around like McDonald’s ships prefab burgers. To their credit, it got a little better when they went to Pike Place Roast, but it still isn’t like fresh roasted indie coffee.

Coffee should be roasted in your shop for consumption that day (OK, I’ll give you a week or so), not in a warehouse in (among other places) New Jersey.

What’s that smell?

To reclaim the indie story, you have to do the things an indie coffee shop lives for (and their clientele depends on):

  • roast your beans in the store, in small quantities.
  • serve ground-that-moment coffee, not ground-last-month-in-New-Jersey coffee.
  • roast coffee till it’s just right (rather than burn it)

The air in a community coffee shop should smell like fine coffee, rather than carry the aroma of stale french fry grease.

Congruence. Do you have it?

What makes you shine like a Ferrari?

Imagine getting laid off at 63 years of age simply because you’re old.

Now they won’t tell you that because you could sue them for that. Instead, they lay you off because another (ie: younger) employee doesn’t have to make as much.

Like a kick in the gut, you’d think.

But not for this guy. Despite health issues, a divorce, a failed consulting firm and getting fired simply because he (wink, wink) made too much, Michael Gates Gill proudly says he can make a toilet shine like a Ferrari.

He says “Starbucks saved my life“, but I think he’s wrong. 

More on that in a minute. 

More than ever, service matters

Some businesses offer great service. Some do not.

More often than not, the difference is in the attitude of the person behind the counter. They do what no one else will do (much less try) – just like the dog in the photo. 

In Mr. Gill’s case, the right attitude is really what saved his life – the attitude of both his and those of the people he works with. 

I’ll bet it comes across the counter at his shop. In fact, I’ll bet it impacts the attitude of many of his clientele and causes people to want him to wait on them rather than someone else.

Do you have anyone like that?

The Intersection of Policy and Customer Service

Joel Spolsky is a household name to most people in the software business.

He’s been blogging for years about Microsoft, customer service, the software business and even how to build out an office in New York City. Not long ago, he started blogging for Inc. Magazine.

Today, he’s our guest poster and talks about something we spoke of yesterday: The intersection between policies and customer service.

Enjoy. I’m over in Fort Benton Montana covering the State swim meet.

Are you paying attention to your competition?

Earlier this week, the long-awaited Firefox 3 web browser shipped.

Last Wednesday, a cake from their competitor – the Microsoft Internet Explorer team – arrived at the headquarters of the Firefox development team to congratulate them for releasing their new version.

Obviously, someone at Microsoft is paying attention to their competition.

Do you?

I don’t mean to suggest that you should mimic their every move, becoming the Burger King to their McDonald’s.

On the other hand, watching them and the rest of your market is a necessary effort. And, as noted above, it’s ok to have a little fun with them once in a while.

Not long ago, we talked about how independent coffee shops could keep an eye on MyStarbucksIdea.com so that they know how consumers feel about Starbucks AND their competition.

How do you keep an eye on your competition? I’d be interested to hear about it.

How to serve mail order coffee while wearing your e-commerce marketing hat

I ordered some coffee beans online the other day and received the box on Saturday. Or maybe Friday – dunno since I didn’t check the mail on Friday.

The box arrived in good condition and the beans were packed in their airtight bag with a nice spring-y colored tissue paper. So much nicer than those annoying statically charged packing peanuts that stick to everything.

Buddha dog
photo credit: SuperFantastic

Included in the box was a hand-written card from one of the owners of the coffee shop (no photo of the owner or the shop), and a business card (no photo). Nicely done, I thought, but what would make the purchase really memorable?

What would provoke me to tell a dozen friends about this package, and even to show it to them before tossing or reusing the packaging?

  • What can they do to make doing business with them unbelievable?
  • How can they truly make it an coffee shop experience – even by mail?
  • If Seth Godin ordered coffee beans from your shop – what would you have done differently, or what would you hope you would have done differently?

Here are a few ideas:

Tell me how fresh it is and why I should care: Include the roasted date on the package so I know that they put my coffee in the box on the same day it was roasted (or maybe the day before). When telling me the roasting date, remind me that coffee beans lose 25% of their flavor within 14 days – or whatever the number is – and note that store-bought coffee is often months old (and Starbucks is as well). Make it clear to me that their efforts to get me the freshest roast possible is so I and my friends and family have the best coffee we can buy – without spending 2 or 3 times what the grocery store charges.

Tell me how special it is: I know of one shop that includes a birth certificate with their Christmas-time Hawaiian Kona coffee package. A nice touch over the holidays, but it could easily be continued throughout the year. If it’s French Roast, tell me where the beans came from. Tell me where the farm is. If it’s Fair Trade coffee, make sure I know about it.

Show me what else I might like if I like French Roast: Next time I order coffee, I might be in an experimental mood. Or I might want something stronger, or different. Let me know what I might enjoy if I liked this one. Help me shop more wisely.

Show me what else I might do if I am “into coffee”: Perhaps I’m using bleached coffee filters. Maybe my water isn’t filtered. Maybe I toss the half-full bag in the fridge or in the freezer. Shouldn’t I get an owner’s manual for this bag of beans?

I mean, if I’m going to really enjoy them and get the same experience I would get if I was drinking my Joe in your shop, what would I do at home?

Help me find the things I’ll need if I really am a coffee geek, or want to be. After all, there is a reason why the coffee is so good at your shop – shouldn’t you help me make my coffee just as good at home with your beans?

Help me reorder: Until I establish a purchase history, this coffee place has to make a guess about how long it’ll take me to use this bag of beans. I’m guessing they can tell me to the cup how many cups of espresso I’ll get (give or take a couple) from a bag of beans ( I have no idea ).

If they guess that two people are drinking java in my house (an accurate guess) each day, then they’ll need to follow up in a certain number of days so that I never run out of their coffee. How many days should they wait before following up?

Roughly speaking, that’s (cups per bag) divided by (cups per day) minus a few days for shipping so that they have time to get me another bag before I run out and establish motivation to buy someone else’s coffee at the local grocery or coffee shop.

Rhode Island Cinnamon Latte
photo credit: Chris Owens

Adding to that reorder thing – help me get it automatically: If I like their coffee, give me a code or a special URL or phone number or an order form or email address or *something* to make it drop dead simple to order another bag, and include an option to start having them send me a bag so that fresh beans or ground coffee automatically arrive every X days or weeks.

Help me tell a friend about this great coffee and the package and so on: Include a card, something with a bonus-for-a-friend URL, some other doohickey, or a 1 pot sample bag of ground coffee (just in case they don’t have a grinder) or something to give to a friend. If I’m a coffee geek, chances are that I know other coffee geeks – the same kind of people who appreciate the same kinds of things.

Remind me to reorder: Follow up with me in a week or two and make sure the beans are as good as I expected. Remind me how I can get them again and make it as easy as possible. Don’t make me work to get another bag.

Make me feel like I’m part of your gang and do it in a way that’s viral: Include a cleverly logo’d coffee cup in the package for their first order. Remember, it isn’t about getting the order, it’s about gaining a new client. You want people to ask your client about that cup they’re using, so be sure it’s cool enough that they can’t help but use it. Make sure they know that the first order ships free if they mention they saw the cup.

Of course, this discussion could easily be modified for imported bamboo plants, boudin, motivational CDs, workout DVDs, t-shirts, barbeque sauce, gourmet chocolates or anything you are selling online and over the phone.

For more ideas and motivation for your mail order business, order a CD from CDBaby.com and see how they make every aspect of the purchase interesting and fun, even the order confirmation emails.