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Coffee Tea Business Mag
When Coffee Speaks



By David J. Morris

Why does every specialty coffee magazine, and at least once a year, nearly every business magazine in America dedicate space to branding?

Simple. Branding is literally everything you do to promote your business, from the moment you conceive it to the point at which customers buy your product and begin to patronize your business on a regular basis.

The fact is, branding is everything and everything is branding. I look at branding as a circle that begins with your idea for generating revenue, and is complete when you have the large base of regular customers that are a powerful extension of your sales outreach. Like leadership books, we just can’t seem to get enough information and insight on the subject.

Marty and Louise Cox, founders of America's largest coffee chain, It's a Grind
Creating a Brand
When I say branding, everybody’s first thought is a logo and signage. Of course you need to invest in a professionally designed logo to compete in today’s sophisticated specialty coffee market. What value is a name like Old Navy, Target or even Starbucks to the customer until you define what it means to them?

From the second you flick on your open sign, marketing has started. Most business owners can’t even begin to comprehend the scope and depth of what defines and makes people gravitate to a brand.

As one of the Northwest’s largest specialty coffee micro roasters, we have run into a lot of potential customers who have told me without blinking that marketing is a waste of time. Whether a small business owner realizes it or not, everybody in retail is marketing and creating a brand personality. The question is what are you doing to control how the public is branding your business?

Every aspect of you and your staff’s self-presentation is critical to establishing your brand. Leave your ego at the door and recognize that everything begins and ends with the personal style and customer treatment by management. Nothing helps or defeats the birth of a brand more than bad word-of-mouth. Like it or not, you are in the public relations business the second you decided to become a retailer.

It is universally true that word-of-mouth is far and away the best way to advertise your brand. What people tell their friends and co-workers about their experience will literally make you or break you. Imagine how fast a customer’s passionate appreciation or dislike for you and your staff passes through your target market area.

Retail research has long proven that it takes no less than seven perfect customer experiences to move from brand awareness to understanding, to conviction, to purchase, and finally regular repurchase.

The first and every day step in building your brand is to get personally excited about every aspect of your business that defines your brand. It is hard for you and your customer to get excited about cookie-cutter building, decorating and promotional concepts.

I know, you think it has all been done before. We have a ton of customers from coast-to-coast who are proving that wrong every day. The opportunity is limitless to create a totally unique brand personality.

What about the Big Green (Starbucks), with oceans of people and dollars to conceive and implement every good idea in the category?

Reality check here: Being big opens up as much vulnerability as it does opportunity. You can dramatically take full advantage of the fact that you are an independent. Like it or not, those differences start with you -- the owner.

You need every soul who crosses your threshold to remember a genuine smiling face and an enthusiastic welcome that makes them beam when you care enough about them personally to recognize them by name, as well as know their favorite drink.

Powering Your Brand
You have established your brand. Now you want to catapult over the competition by powering your brand into multiple locations.

While you really could have used a tightly written and focused business plan to get started, that plan is critical now to powering your brand. I won’t get into the details of a business plan here. Keep in mind that a lack of forward thinking and planning critically inhibits your ability to build a power brand. A good action plan sets attainable goals, targets your exact primary customer target, defines the competition, and has clear measurable objectives, strategies and tactics.

Regardless of whether you are an independent, a franchise or a chain, setting up a clear, consistent marketing plan is essential to uniquely defining your brand.

Recognizing the stand alone drive-thru concept as the hottest and fastest growing North America sales channel for specialty coffee, let’s take a quick look at two drive-thrus and one highly successful café chain that are powering their brands into market area dominance.

Cool Bean's new location was a half million-dollar building and land investment.
Bigger Vision - Bigger Dollars
The specialty coffee market is rapidly maturing coast to coast, meaning it takes bigger original ideas and much bigger dollars to lay claim to a larger than average market share and profits.

Five years ago, Art and Vicki Pedersen of Puyallup, Washington, invested $30,000 and 17 days to construct a 96 square foot specialty coffee drive-thru they called Cool Bean on the busiest main street in their community. Result: $300,000 in sales the first year, supporting nine people.

Art is the first to acknowledge that he couldn’t fail in 1999, but has to be on the cutting edge of everything today to build brand preference at his second drive-thru, located blocks away on the same Puyallup street.

“Yes, we bought the land for our new drive-thru, but costs for land and our luxury Cool Bean building the second go around were over $640,000,” said Pedersen.

The Pedersens understand how to power a brand. A smart cartoon icon, reaching six feet high adorns the front of the drive-thru and the menu targets perfectly their family-friendly location. They chose a site less than a five-minute drive from a huge, growing suburban home development. The husband and wife business team is right on track to realizing an 18-20% net profit from over $800,000 in sales from the two locations in 2004.

“Building your own brand is all about passion versus greed,” Pedersen said. “In every other business I have worked in, money and greed drove the way you go about business. The specialty coffee industry is different. Sure, we are focused on making a great return on investment, but we live every day as though it is secondary to the fun coffee and friendship experience we share with our customers. If you don’t just love the coffee business, you better pick another field.”

Pedersen’s “love” of the business is evident in every aspect of his unique building design, fun signature menu and exceptionally well-trained and nurtured staff.

What if your dreams are even bigger and you want to profitably grow to an un limited number of locations?

Enter BigFoot Java. Capitalizing on the Northwest popularity of the drive-thru, a group of investors from the Pacific Northwest (including Dillanos Coffee Roasters) got together three years ago to redefine the concept.

With a goal of capturing the market between the mom-and-pop independents and the large chains, BigFoot Investment Group’s president, Al Jiwani said they are aiming directly at a niche in the middle of these two market extremes.

The first Greater Puget Sound, Washington prototype opened in January of 2002. The drive-thru industry has never been the same. BigFoot Java refined its early “traditional” drive-thru concept with breakthrough innovations in all aspects of facility design, operational efficiency and customer service propositions.

By early 2005, the company will have opened eleven locations, each benefiting from the following fundamental unique selling advantages:

  • A unique branding theme and building design that customer surveys reveal as “clean” and “catchy” and instantly promoting a big-company image. Everything about the brand, from the building size, menu board, barista training programs and marketing reinforce this perception.
  • An expansive menu including signature concoctions such as the Legendary Latte and Mythical Mocha.
  • The development of BigFoot University, setting industry-high standards to establish consistent quality in beverage preparation and relationship marketing.
  • Implementation of various customer loyalty programs to promote the BigFoot Java brand, including the traditional punch card programs, but also high-level plastic prepaid cards, scratch-off cards, and gift cards. The company also plans to introduce a points-based gift-redemption loyalty card similar to airline frequent flier programs.
  • A soon-to-be-unveiled franchise package that will offer mom-and-pop operators as well as sophisticated entrepreneurs an opportunity to leverage the company’s powerhouse brand.
With average daily store sales skyrocketing to up to three times the industry standard, BigFoot is positioning itself into becoming a formidable national regional player.

The very first Cool Bean Drive-Thru was erected in 17 days with a $30,000 investment.
Birth of a Giant
A quick historical glance and current update of our customer, a enormously successful chain of coffee houses started in Long Beach, California, It’s A Grind coffee houses, underscores that you don’t have to redefine a specialty coffee sales channel to become the fastest growing coffee house franchise in America.

Founder and president Marty Cox was a highly successful corporate office supplies salesman in the early 1990s, with no background in the coffee industry. Today Cox owns five It’s A Grind coffee houses in and around his hometown of Long Beach, California. To date he has sold franchises for 165 more in nine neighboring states -- and is watching them open at lightening speed.

It’s A Grind’s café interior look still holds true to his original brand concept of a neighborhood coffeehouse with an eclectic blues and jazz motif. It’s A Grind’s “living room” feel was enhanced with the use of more comfortable oversized wingback chairs and finishes like rich mahogany, stained concrete floors, slate tiled walls and large original paintings of favorite blues and jazz artists.

“I started It’s A Grind coffee house because I felt we could create a higher quality brand than what was out there,” Cox said. He added that the core of his branding ideology has been his mission statement: “To partner with individuals who share our ideals and our passion to create premium neighborhood coffee houses recognized for creating exceptional experiences that enrich the lives of everyone we meet.”

Cox has taken the neighborhood branding to heart. Every It’s A Grind location’s management and staff are actively involved in their communities, donating beyond the competition in time and resources. This commitment has dramatically translated into It’s A Grind becoming the local gathering place for neighboring friends and families.

Yes, branding is literally everything you do to promote your business. In this highly competitive environment, it can make the difference between breaking even and breaking the bank. It’s up to you.

Here is a quick drill to see how your brand measures up:
  • Are your decorations loaded with atmosphere to create just the right ambiance for the target customer you have clearly profiled?
  • Is your lighting, music and use of color and texture a perfect reflection of what most appeals to your target customer?
  • What about the type of seating and the way you have arranged it?
  • Is every square inch of your business - starting with your restrooms - immaculately clean?
  • Are your point of sale materials and surroundings harmoniously branded with your logo?
  • Do you have the kind of disciplined barista training program to ensure you serving the perfectly foamed latte, where consistency is from top to the bottom of cup in EVERY beverage served?
  • Are you making sure every staff member is well trained with basic knowledge about relationship marketing as well as the coffee industry and blends you offer?
  • Is your roaster purchasing the best available beans, and recognized by their peers and the industry as a consistent premium quality roaster?
If you answered “yes” to all of these givens in today’s highly competitive marketplace, great! Now you have only done the minimum of what all your best competition is doing to create brand loyalty.

Bottom line: Striving for perfection to define your brand is non-negotiable in today’s mature specialty coffee marketplace.

David Morris, c.e.o. of Dillanos Coffee Roasters, Sumner, WA is also known as “America’s Specialty Coffee Brand Coach.” He often travels on his Harley Davidson, working with customers countrywide on successfully branding their identity. Whether teaching the business training seminar at Coffee Fest in Seattle, Chicago or Las Vegas, or working with Dillanos clients, those who meet David walk away with unbridled enthusiasm to effectively brand their product. Contact David Morris at (253) 826-1807 or visit www.dillanos.com.

Tea & Coffee - December/January, 2005
Theta Ridge Coffee


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