With a Starbucks or one of its imitators seemingly on every corner it’s time to take a look at the coffeehouse as more than a beverage-dispensing trend. Sure people go to these little islands of caffeine for a taste of the bean, but that’s not the only reason, and maybe not even the main reason.
For city dwellers, a coffeehouse is a special kind of space. Part restaurant, part living room, and part office, it’s a public place that people treat as if it were private. Even in the burbs people will drive to a coffeehouse to read a book, play a game of Scrabble, or work on their laptop. All things they could easily do in their homes or offices.
There’s something about these warm, sometimes funky, spaces that just makes people want to sit, sip, interact, and contemplate. Smart operators are taking advantage of it. After all, there is a huge profit in selling colored water for upwards of a buck and a half a cup.
But there are more opportunities for business than can be poured into a cup, and the trick to taking advantage of them is in bringing people back and having them stay a while.
Starbucks has been making WiFi (wireless Internet access) a part of the equation for a couple of years now. Other “consumer services” are finding their way into coffeehouses just as coffeehouses have found their way in to other consumer spaces — think Borders and Barnes & Noble. The typical coffeehouse of the future is likely to become a multifaceted selling environment, and the environment of the coffeehouse is morphing into retail outlets.
Tearooms have already sprung up in cities everywhere, and chocolate cafes such as the Moonstruck chain, out of Portland, Oregon, are beginning to appear in the urban centers. The possible environments for coffeehouse-like spaces are just beginning to be explored.
So what’s it all mean to the small business marketplace? Well for one thing, the coffeehouse environment is great for meeting with small business owners. They’re out of the shop or office and you’ve got their undivided attention. It takes less time than lunch and isn’t as expensive. Another possibility is building a coffeehouse into your physical sales environment. That has worked wonders for bookstores. What might it do for a Staples or Office Depot? What about working with a coffeehouse to set up product demos for area businesses? Send out the invitations offering a free coffee break and wait for the prospects to come through the door. Coffeehouses and their ilk with their warm environment are a trend waiting to be harvested by those selling to small and midsize businesses.