Stage Two: The Fight for the Independent Coffeehouse

Over these past few weeks, I have developed three separate pieces of my research, each of which I will summarize below. First, the interview questions for coffeehouse owners have been refined and finalized, and several interviews have been conducted. Second, I have visited five coffeehouses so far and conducted an evaluative analysis of a list of tangible criteria in each. Third, I have developed a consumer research survey that will go live early next week.

The interview questions for coffeehouse owners focus on marketing features of the coffeehouses and facts that allow categorizing of the establishments that I cannot glean from my own personal investigation and observation. They evaluate the factors of price, place, product, promotion, target audience, and competitive advantage in the marketplace. Some examples are as follows:

General questions:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. Has your coffeehouse ever changed locations?
  3. Are you for-profit or non-profit?
  4. If non-profit, then what is your purpose for operating the business?
  5. How many employees do you have?
  6. How do you train them?

Marketing-specific questions:

  1. How often do you introduce new products? How much do new products contribute to overall sales in a given month?
  2. Do you find that your customers prefer new products or familiar ones?
  3. What products have the highest profit margins? The lowest?
  4. Do you price all of your items individually? What pricing strategy do you use?
  5. What kind of pricing specials or sales do you use?
  6. Have you intentionally displayed or listed your products in a specific way? If so, how and why?
  7. Do you encourage your staff to develop relationships with customers?
  8. Are you targeting a specific type of customers, or the general public?
  9.  Do you use a loyalty program for customers?
  10.  How do you use social media to reach consumers? Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Apps on the smartphone?
  11.  How often do you use print ads? If so, what kind?
  12.  How often do use other alternative forms of advertising like radio spots, newspaper, flyers, etc.? Which ones do you use and how?
  13. Have you seen social media impact your sales? If so, how?

This list is a broad sampling of some of the topics I am researching, but is not comprehensive.

Last week, I spent numerous extremely caffeinated hours in the first five coffeehouses on my list. Each location was analyzed based on a list of qualitative criteria that I developed with the aforementioned marketing factors in mind. So far at least one distinctive theme is emerging, although still in a very prototype stage. It is the concept that I have given the working term of a “destination appeal”. Each independent coffeehouse that I have visited has a feature that distinguishes it from all of its competitors, both independent stores and chains like Starbucks. This feature incentivizes consumers not only to try the coffeehouse in the first place, but also to develop loyalty to it and return consistently for that unique feature. Until I have visited more independent coffeehouses and combined my observational research with the consumer research and owner/management interviews, I will wait to elaborate further on “destination appeal” except to say that a chain such as Starbucks lends itself more to a “convenience and/or familiarity appeal”.

Finally, a consumer research survey is ready to go live on Qualtrics in the next few days. My goal is to obtain at a minimum 100 responses (so if you’re reading this post, I’ll also be posting the link next week – go take the survey!). It tests consumer perceptions of the marketing factors listed above (price, place, etc.), as well as less tangible concepts such as atmosphere and personal motives for loyalty to a particular coffeehouse.

That is the update for now – I have several more interviews scheduled for this weekend, a consumer survey going live soon, and ten coffeehouses slated for visits next week.