Friday, December 22, 2006

Advertising, Fear & Common Sense, Pt. II

Ok, last post on this topic we left off with some questions you might want to ask yourself when considering running an ad. In this particular case the "Our Coffee Is Better!" ad I spoke of last post is currently being run by a coffee place here in town as a result of the impact we, Stumpjack Coffee, are having on retail coffee sales in town. Let's review the questions. "Will this be effective? Will it enhance or reinforce our image and identity? Will the return be worth the dollars spent? Will there be any negative fallout from making a direct comparison to our competitor?"

The most interesting thing about this coffee cafe's ad, from our perspective, is the way in which our friends/customers have responded to it. People come in to the Stumpjack and they bring it up; "Have you seen their ad?" and inevitably they follow their question with a statement of displeasure and even anger at the ad. I'd say that this scenario has repeated itself at least a couple dozen times over the last two or three weeks. And the level of emotion that people have voiced, running from mild irritation to actual anger, toward the other coffee shop has been very interesting as well. The most common response has been something along the lines of "Better than what!? Better than what it used to be? Better than [insert popular freeze-dried instant coffee or other politely unmentionable liquid]?" People feel as though they themselves have been attacked by the ad. It's quite a nice feeling to have such loyal customers that are willing to defend this place from what they perceive as an unwarranted attack. I'm telling you, it truly makes us feel absolutely wonderful and unbelievably honored and grateful. So many of our customers have become genuine friends, folks we just like to hang with, and that has been a real bonus.

I can't answer the first three questions, about whether or not the ad has been effective in increasing their sales. But I can say that there definitely appears to have been a fair amount of negative fall-out as a result of it. I should clarify, however, that the Stumpjack has garnered a good amount of positive response from the ad. What the ad has unwittingly done is focused attention onto Stumpjack Coffee. As the object of their comparison we, of course, are an integral component of the ad campaign. At least a couple of people have come in and said something akin to "We had to see what they were talking about, who really does have the better coffee." Considering the attention and response we've received it's actually had a better result for the Stumpjack in terms of buzz and sales than an ad we might have run ourselves. How weirdly cool is that?!

I want to be very clear that we never felt angered or upset about the "Our Coffee Is Better!" ad or had any feelings of negativity towards the other coffee shop. I personally like the folks who run that cafe, and in the case of this ad my understanding is that they were not responsible for running it (the coffee shop is part of a larger retail space and I understand that the retail space management created and ran the ad). Our philosphy has always been that there are plenty of pieces of pie to go around for everyone and, more importantly, that the more options people have in spending their money the better everyone's business will be in the long run. Sure, you might lose the occasional individual sale but if more people are coming into your area as a result of more shopping choices you will inevitably reap far more than you lose (if you're doing things the way you should). Unfortunately, that seems to be a business philosophy that is in the minority in these parts. Rather, there seems to be an attitude of territoriality and fear of competition. That's not good for business - anyone's business - and it's not good for the community. Our job as business people in a community should be to lift up, encourage and support new businesses, even if they are in our particular field, while at the same time trying to outdo our competitors in quality of product and service in a friendly and honest manner. Competition not only can be a win-win situation, if engaged in wisely and cooperatively it surely will be.

Well, it's been an interesting topic of conversation and I hope we take a few pearls of wisdom for our own notebook from what appears to have been an ill-conceived marketing plan.

Puerto Rican Coffee Here!

We received our first package of Puerto Rico roasted beans yesterday from Russ (Master Roaster from Two Rivers Roasting Co.), roasted only the day before. This morning we're scheduled for an 11:30 slot on the local radio program "Out n' About" where we'll have a few minutes to talk about the new coffee.

Image of plant from this year's crop at one of "our" farms in Puerto Rico

Folks who are into high quality coffee know that Puerto Rican coffee is considered to be one of the very best, super premium coffees and is very difficult to get ahold of here in the states. A little Internet research will provide some good information on the quality of the crop as well as the region's volatile coffee history.

Another image from one of the farms with green fruit

Historically the favored bean of kings, popes and heads of state good Puerto Rican coffee is a high altitude crop that assumes, like wine, the flavor of the region. Our beans are roasted at a full city roast to enhance the gentle balance of flavor; you may experience hints of cocoa, caramel, almond, herbal notes, and a slight nuttiness, in a very smooth, low acid cup with a body that's been described as creamy and balanced. It has that mellow "Island Cup" profile, softly bittersweet or "tangy."

We'll be selling the beans in this initial outing at only $18.50 a pound in order to get an idea of what interest is out there for a coffee of thi quality. We'll also have a brew pot out with 12 oz. mugs at $2.50 & 16 oz. at $3.00; no refills. I can guarantee that Stumpjack will be the one and only java shop in the area with this coffee and I'm guessing that, if not the only, we are certainly one of a very few coffee shops in the country that is offering Puerto Rican coffee right now.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

YeeHaaww...Christmas Time's A-Comin'!

I just happen to be listening to Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys singin' and a-pickin' their way through some bluegrass Christmas tunes, hence the HeeHaw title of this post. Those boys had it goin' on! Great stuff. My Christmas tunage this year has been a fantastic mix of stuff. One of the really gratifying things about opening the Stumpjack has been the number and sincerity of the compliments we've received on our music selections. This is especially gratifying to me because I had to listen to a fair amount of unsolicited opinion about what kind of music I should or shouldn't play, but that's a part of another story for another time.

Here's a smattering of the current favorite Christmas albums (CDs) in rotation:

Dean Martin - "Christmas with Dino"... Awesome CD, not a weak tune in the bunch, and Martin's silky smooth vibrato just exudes warmth. You get the feeling that he really enjoyed recording these songs. I can't seem to bring myself to take this one out of the rotation. This disc gets the most compliments and questions ("Who is this? I've got to get that CD!") than the other Christmas CDs in rotation.

Vince Guaraldi - "A Charlie Brown Christmas"...Is this still the all-time best selling jazz album? It's not a wonder why if it is. The instrumentals are definitely the strongest tunes, while the ones with vocal/choir accompaniment are worthy because of their nostalgic association with the TV special. Simply a beautiful, mellow and incredibly soothing album that continues to stand the test of time.

Ella Fitzgerald - "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas"...Man, could that girl sing! Vocals as clear and lilting as a handbell choir (a very jazzy handbell choir maybe). The orchestration and arrangements by Frank DeVol on this set of Christmas tunes is just perfect for Fitzgerald. This CD is classy and brassy, baby! One of my favorites.

Charles Brown - "Cool Christmas Blues"...An aptly named disc. This is about as cool, bluesy and smooth as it gets. Brown was truly an original and a great songsmith, and his champaigne-like sparkling piano work combines with his milky, deep vocals to make this easily one of the best CDs in our Christmas collection.

Throw into the mix Christmas CDs by Mel Torme; Harry Connick Jr.; a few Blues, R&B and Bluegrass compilations; "Christmas with the Rat Pack;" some Ray Charles; BB King; a little Celtic stuff; Jon Anderson's "Three Ships;" Jimmy Buffet; Burl Ives (of course); and Alligator Records Christmas compilations...and you've got some great stuff to put you in the Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Advertising, Fear & Common Sense, Pt. I

I've been thinking about this blog and our forthcoming web site (don't ask me when we'll be online...sometime fairly soon, in the next month or so), more specifically what topics are okay to address and what topics might be questionable, given my position as a business owner in the community. One doesn't wish to offend or be adversarial, and yet when questions are asked and issues become topics of conversation some sort of reply seems appropriate.

One of the recurring topics of the past couple weeks has been an advertisement that one of the local coffee spots has placed in the local newspaper. The ad is small and simple in design; the shop name and hours are displayed in the lower half and the sole promotional text occupies the upper half of the ad space. It reads "OUR COFFEE IS BETTER!" That's it...a small ad that has been run close to every other day in the newspaper.

That we are the object of their comparison is fairly transparent, as Stumpjack Coffee Co is the new coffee establishment in town and we know that we are making an impact on previous coffee drinking preferences of a fair number of folks in town (yes, I know that sounds a bit obtuse, but I'm trying to be congenial and soft with me here, will ya!). The response to their ad has been rather interesting, and brings up an equally interesting and important issue for any business to consider, that being the question of defining one's identity and how to best present that identity to the public. In other words, how do you market yourself.

We have chosen to try to create an identity that (hopefully) successfully integrates our ideas on high quality coffees, service, environment (sensory), community (local & global), etc., and we have also chosen, for the most part, to let our identity speak for itself or, more accurately, let our customers/friends speak for us. Other than a couple of initial announcements we have avoided media advertising and have instead opted for word-of-mouth advertising from the folks who stop in each day. The results have been very positive and have encouraged us to feel like we're at least headed in the right direction.

The approach that we have chosen to take may not be the most practical or effective approach for every business, and it may not even be the one we maintain as we continue to move forward. It is, however, an approach that I believe is the most "honest" in terms of evaluating the results of one's efforts. If business grows as a result of people returning with friends or from the word-of-mouth of someone else, rather than because an advertisement enticed them, then it's safe to assume that you're doing something correctly. In other words, if the actual experience of the visit or product is resulting in both repeat and new sales, then that is a more honest indicator that you may be on the right path than what traditional media marketing can provide. But I don't want to get too far off track and into a discussion on marketing philosophy.

The "Our Coffee Is Better!" print advertisement is a direct response to a competitor who is making an impact on their business. Before engaging in any kind of marketing you need to ask yourself some practical questions: "will this be effective?; will it enhance or reinforce our image and identity?; will the return be worth the dollars spent?" In the case of this particular ad I might also have asked myself "will there be any negative fallout from making a direct comparison to our competitor?" From our perspective this is where things have been interesting...and I'll explore that aspect of it next posting.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

On this day in history...

It was on this date, December 16, in 1773 that colonists in Boston boarded three tea-bearing British ships and dumped the cargo overboard and into the harbor. They were, as we all know (or should know), protesting the tax that the Crown had placed on tea imported to the colonies (one of the issues being "taxation without representation"). The evening sortie became known as the Boston Tea Party and was one of the events that led to the American Revolution a couple years later.

Well, other than temporarily imbuing the Boston Harbor with a spicy aroma, the event also set the stage for America becoming primarily a coffee-drinking nation as opposed to a tea-drinking one. "Ixnay to the tea you dandy Redcoats! Give us coffee and liberty!"

I just read a great little essay by Joel Johnson that indirectly affirms this assertion. Joel writes in "The Truth of Diner Coffee,"

No one without hope ever drinks coffee. If you put a cup to your lips, you’ve made a tacit acknowledgment that you expect life to get just a little bit better. If you’re hung over, coffee is the first, scrambling step towards level. On the long road, coffee is the assumption that you’ll make a few more miles. Coffee is the signal to an antagonist world that you’re ready to stand up for one more day.

No other liquid, not even our Dread Lord Beer, carries with it so much implicit optimism. If beer is heaven, coffee is faith.

You can surmise the connections: faith/optimism/liberty/ & beer (and it doesn't hurt the progression of this series of connections that the lead instigator of the Boston Tea Party was future microbrew icon Samuel Adams).

So, the next time you enjoy an aromatic cup of our fine Guatemalan or a frosty bottle of Sleeman's Porter, give a nod to those lads who dressed up like c1930s Hollywood Indians and gave a collective raspberry to merry old England.

Check out Joel Johnson's excellent Dethroner blog...a great combination of fun and useful information, well written and with a sense of humor.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The new Starbucks in Manitowoc

Well, over the past several weeks I've been asked by folks coming into the Stumpjack what I think about the new Starbucks opening up in Manitowoc and how it might affect our business here. I understand that they opened for business yesterday and today there is a front page article on the new business in the local newspaper, so it seems an opportune time for me to share my thoughts.

I think that it is a good thing that Starbucks is opening a store here in our area. Almost any new business should be welcome (I do have reservations about certain businesses, but that's not relative to this post), encouraged and supported. A new business means new jobs and more choices for folks who live and shop here, and those are very good things. Also, Starbucks, even with all of its anti-Third Wave associations, will surely increase the coffee consciousness of the community (not that awareness of "Third Wave" philosophy or terminology is even on most people's radar in this part of the country anyway).

From a purely personal business stance I also believe that the addition of Starbucks to the community is a good thing for my business. The paper's brief interviews with the two coffee shops in Manitowoc indicate a concern that Starbucks will have a negative impact on their businesses. In my opinion, that's misguided thinking. I would love a Starbucks to be on the same block as the Stumpjack Coffee Company; right next door would be even better! Their presence presents a great opportunity for increasing our business and the public's coffee knowledge (and the more knowledgable people become about coffee the greater our business should be, as people become more knowledgable they will also become more concerned about the quality of the coffee they drink and the experience they desire).

While Starbucks may perhaps beat us at speed (in getting the drink to the customer) and familiarity (familiarity of place that equates to comfort...even if someone has never been into a Starbucks we all pretty much know what to expect, just as we know what to expect when we enter any fast food or franchise restaurant), they cannot successfully compete with us on so many more fronts if we do our jobs the way we should. We beat them on quality of service, atmosphere and originality, commitment to our customers and to product excellence, and of course, quality of coffee. This is not to say that Starbucks does not have people on their staff who care about quality service or a quality product, because surely there are dedicated, service and quality minded people who work there. It is to say that the fast food franchise system inevitably leads to a less personalized service experience, and by virtue of their large size (quantity of stores) they cannot, practically or logistically, present as fresh a product as a smaller independent.

For people who enjoy the repetitiously familiar experience (and there is indeed a measure of comfort and reassurance to the repetitiously familiar) Starbucks is a fine choice. But they are at a serious disadvantage with people who desire something more personal, eclectic and quality-driven. I hope they do well here in Manitowoc...well enough to consider a location in Two Rivers even.

Just like they make it in Napoli

Let me share a little tale with you from yesterday...

A fellow and his wife (presumably) came in during the day, seeking something tasty and warming to their innards. She ordered a chai latte, I believe, and he ordered an espresso dopio. Yes, he did indeed use the Italian designation. Upon receiving their respective libations the woman pronounced her chai to be "excellent." The man, on the other hand, began to boisterously declare that his espresso was even better. "Man, this is excellent! This is what espresso is supposed to taste like!" he exclaimed. "It's so hard to find a place that makes a good espresso." He slammed the last sip and set his demitasse on the counter. "This is just like they make it in Napoli! That was great. Thanks very much."

Another fun coffee experience and another satisfied customer. That never gets old...

Now then, I'm not afraid to tell you that we don't always hit it right on the head like we did this time. We're still learning and working on getting better every day, and there's a long way to go yet. And when we do hit it just right that's always as much a tip of the hat to our roaster as it is to our good luck in hitting everything just right, maybe more so. I told this fellow that we have an excellent roaster in Two Rivers Roasting Co and that as someone who appreciated good coffee as much as he obviously did he would do well to try some TR Roasting coffees when he has the chance.

Here endeth the tale...

Friday, December 8, 2006

Cafe Tlazo

I went up to Algoma this afternoon for a wine pick-up at the von Stiehl Winery. Tasted a couple of nice Cabernets. Afterwards, on my way out of town I stopped in for a cup to-go at Cafe Tlazo. This is a great little place, very cozy inside, warm color scheme and a real nice relaxing vibe. In warm weather they also have a nice outside seating area. I ordered a 12 oz. cappuccino. It was good...the ratio of espresso/steamed milk/foam was good (for your typical Americanized cappuccino) with foamed milk that was pretty nicely textured and with a lovely color. The taste was very smooth, if just a tad on the light side...very good and rather nicely done, it really hit the spot after my brief wine tasting. The to-go cup was also a cool-looking item, with an attractive french cafe scene. I haven't seen to-go cups like this and it really caught my eye. I do have a textural aversion to smooth styrofoam or paper cups...generally the feel of them is rather irksome to me...but even though this was a smooth styrofoam cup the attractiveness of the cup offset my aversion to the feel.

Cafe Tlazo is one of those great little spaces that make you promise yourself to visit next time you're in the area. I didn't try their brewed coffee or a straight espresso, so I can't comment on those, but their cappuccino and atmosphere made it well worth the stop.