It’s a Chain World
You don’t have to drive far to realize that chains and box stores are everywhere in the USA. Small businesses may be the backbone of America, but big chains are definitely the face of America with their bulk offerings, conveniences, and massive marketing budgets to reel us in. It doesn’t matter what state you’re in, what city you’re in, or even if you are in a town with only a few 1000 people, chances are there is at least one box store or fast food restaurant near you. Is this an American thing? Do people in other countries have the same box stores or do they support small businesses more?
When people think of chains, they usually think of fast food and “mart” type of stores but the truth is that the conveniences we get from box stores and chains includes hardware stores, clothing stores, breweries, apartment complexes, amusement parks, and furniture stores. We even have chain hospitals! Chains are impossible to escape, no matter where you live and most of us have a love/hate relationship with them.
For me, chains are convenient but digging deeper, does all that standardization neutralize creativity, uniqueness and the overall experience? If you are part corporate store or restaurant, generally, their model is to strive to make every aspect of their business look the same as the other stores. It’s convenient to be able to walk into a store from one city to another and have a basic general knowledge of where you will find what you’re looking for. I get the convenience. What I don’t love is that these chains take over communities, sometimes forcing the “competing” small businesses to close. When the infamous “mart” moves into small town USA, many of the mom-and-pop shops close up shop. There is no way that a small store can compete with the larger mart stores. Allowing these large businesses to come in and take over our small towns changes the overall financial climate of our towns. Generally speaking, the smaller, family-owned shops will do everything they can to pay their employees well, do what they can to offer the most they can. When marts show up, they pay minimum wage and change the economics of the town. I’ve seen it over and over. Small town USA with a main street lined with locally owned shops like a hardware store, clothing boutiques, general store, pharmacy, drug store, café, and the like. One mart store comes into town, over the next couple of years, many of those businesses on main street are forced to close as they just can’t compete with the prices the mart store offers. The town supports the convenience and albeit poorer quality items just to get something a little cheaper. It’s sad, but unfortunately is prevalent in our society and we not only allow this to happen, we encourage it.
There is one industry that Americans seem to flock to and is still regarded as restful and unique and that is the coffee shop. We are lucky. We own a local indy coffee bar. We all know who our major retailer competitor is, but people still appreciate the local feel of a indy shop. Coffee shops have always been a place to gather in to get your day started and wind down from the long day. You don’t have to commit as much money as you would in a restaurant and you get to be anonymous and alone if you choose. The hustle and bustle of a coffee shop creates an energy that people gravitate towards. All you need to do is sit down at the table or bench with a drink and pastry and let your mind wonder. We provide a safe, comfortable space for people to meet, study, write, read, or hang out with friends.
Places like these are needed in the city and the suburbs. In today’s climate, it seems like our libraries are always closed, and parks do not offer clean benches and adequate shade or internet. But do they have to be chain shops? How do people regard the local coffee shop? Is there even a need for local coffee shops in a world of fast coffee?
Why We Decided to Open During a Pandemic?
We signed our lease for our coffee shop the week before the first Covid-19 shut down, back in February. We sat with a lease, a monthly obligation to pay for something which was an empty space consisting of 2×4’s and a concrete floor. For me, the initial draw of our coffee shop was the location. Nestled in a small community, connected to a larger city. We are in the DFW area. Opening any business can be terrifying, opening during a pandemic was a whole new level. Of course, we didn’t know at that time we’d be opening our first location during the pandemic. We waited months to start construction, watching small businesses around us close for good. We finally opened July 1, in the thick of all the uncertainty; unsure of what the future would hold for us. We knew that the community needed a coffee shop; we didn’t know how the community to take to a new coffee shop with mandatory stay at home orders for much of the country. Our opening day was, for many, their first venture out of their homes since the pandemic first stated. The community wanted something to do, that was obvious. When we decided to open our coffee shop, we weren’t thinking of opening in the middle of a community. We initially thought opening along side a highway or strip mall would give us the most visibility. After much contemplation, deciding to open our little shop in the middle of a community lacking a quint café was the best decision; as we filled a void in the community. Almost immediately we felt a welcoming buzz in the air as customers began to plan their mornings around our coffee shop experience; even if that means stopping by on their way to work pickup of a café mocha via curbside. Coffee is the most widely consumed drink in the world. People need their coffee and many carve the experience that comes with the daily cup of Joe. Owning a coffee shop, for me, is so much more than money. It’s creating that safe haven for people to stop by, get a great cup of coffee (or tea), enjoy a fresh pastry, or slice of cake or piece of pie.
Local coffee shops are popular because they are still valuable to the local communities in ways that coffee chains are not. When a consumer walks into a store, any store, they don’t want to feel like they are in a big business. They want to feel their choices are their own and are not influenced by anything outside their own decision-making process. Chain coffee shops, like Starbucks tend to plant themselves in locations where they will be the most profitable (on highways or strip malls), but small business owners want to make their clients’ lives easier, so they choose locations that can cater to many. Our decision to open in the middle of the community vs. alongside the highway was one we felt good about. As luck would have it, the month after we opened, our largest competitor broke ground on their space just a couple of miles from our new shop. What will the future hold? We don’t know. What we believe is true is that local communities want to support small businesses, especially businesses that cater to a specific niche that we believe we do. When you stop by our shop, you’re a real person, not a number, not a commodity, rather part of our extended family. We’ve only been open for just over 90 days and already, we see the same faces day in and day out. We know them by name, we know how they like their lattes and mochas; we even know what baked goods someone likes and we make sure we have enough on hand to help them start their day off being satisfied.
Independent coffee shops can offer their customers something that large corporate chains cannot, and that is family and creativity. When a coffee shop opens up in a neighborhood, they usually embrace the neighborhood and all of its little quirks. Many of those who work there are locals who live in the area, in our case one of our baristas is so close she’s able to ride her bike on nice days.
The World in a Cup
In New York, there are thousands of coffee shops all over the city and in the neighboring suburbs. Many people believe that coffee shops were made popular in New York, other believe their popularity started outside of this country, in Europe. In many parts of the world, even parts of America, it was common for coffee shops to be combined with smoking lounges and bars, so it was the ultimate place to relax and catch up with friends. Plus, in the city that never sleeps, it is coffee that keeps the drinker awake and ready to make more money and accomplish their goals. As long as there a neighborhood coffee store in the general location, no matter what kind of shop it is, locals will flock to it.
It’s easy for me to want to bash the faceless box brands that dilute the beauty of the experience; but we should not demonize this massive corporation on every level. They employed tens of thousands of people a year at their many locations and many of the products that they come up with are popular, which for us, helps the consumer find something they like. Sure, their espresso tastes like the burnt oil, but guests go for quick jolt of caffeine, to use the internet, and meet friends or co-workers. The experience can be similar at both, one catering to the experience of the drink itself, while the other is a numbers game about drive-thru times, and volume.
The two cannot exist without each other. If there were no big coffee business to demonize, the local independent coffee shop would not be as celebrated and cherished as they are now. Coffee store brands do offer a wide variety of products and foods, but when it comes to neighborhood influence and customer care, there is no competition. Chain coffee shops just can’t assimilate into the neighborhood as a local place can. Do people really prefer a coffee chain over the local community café?
Independent coffee shops cannot afford to plan and fund massive marketing campaigns, but social media has made it easier for these businesses to stay in touch with their consumers. They can even appeal to other businesses and locations in the area and make deals with them to purchase their product or services. Each serving of their food tastes like Grandma used to make and not a prepackaged and reheated edible substance. Plus, the owner of the local store can be seen around town, supporting other smaller businesses or you may run into them at the grocery stores. They are not persons who the employee only sees in training manuals with their arms crossed, they are an intricate part of the day to day presence of their coffee shop.
So this is why the local coffee shop in your nearby locations is not going anywhere. Time and time again, they are preferred over the princess coffee brand and their subpar beans. It may be hard to believe, but people truly cherish unique businesses in their area. We get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. supporting local businesses and rewarding hard-working stores with our time, devotion, and money is the best way to transform your neighborhood from another generic town in the US to a place that people won’t stop talking about and moving into. The experiences are wholesome and the friendliness is genuine.