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Too Many Choices

In a world where everything is rushed and “super-sized,” it’s important to slow down and remember your customers. Meet their expectations and when you can, go above and beyond.


Regular, decaf, mocha, skinny, latte – coffee shops offer too many choices when getting something simple like a cup o joe. The ones that do it right are the ones that survive.


In a recent business magazine, a big-box auto parts store was glamorized as the next coming of Wal-Mart. The article also discussed the damage Wal-Mart has done to the mom and pop store and what Starbucks has done to the corner coffee shop.Of course, not everyone buys their coffee at Starbucks. The fact that Im writing this column right now in a non-Starbucks coffee shop probably doesnt scare the grand coffee purveyors in Seattle too much.

Starbucks was around well before this coffee shop opened six years ago. Why on Earth would anybody open a corner coffee shop and have the audacity to take on the Ed Zalinsky of coffee? Starbucks motto might be: We brew coffee for the average working Joe because the average working Joe doesnt know that even if you order a double-mocha-steamer-espresso au lait for $3.95, the main ingredient is still coffee which costs us about five cents a cup.


Do the one- and two-location coffee shop owners like the one I’m in right now know the era of the small independently owned American business is over?

Now I may be over simplifying this a bit, but deep down I really believe coffee is coffee. And except for the java brewed at some of the quick stops weve all stopped at – the kind that tastes like Juan Valdez bathed in it during the brewing process – it all pretty much tastes the same. So whats the difference?

Now, I have no idea how much a cup of coffee is really supposed to cost. Some places charge 50 cents, and other places charge $1 for a refill. I tend not to go back to the latter of the two places.


All I need is the brown-handled regular and orange-handled decaf pots. We give consumers so many choices now that weve created an epidemic of customer brain freeze. Besides the regular or decaf, its flavored or unflavored, and then what flavor (we have 31 you know). Now I even have the choice of buying fair trade coffee or not. And then theres the not-so-little matter of size.

Customer: I’ll have a medium.
Coffee Barista: We dont have medium. We have Grande, Muy Grande and Mas Gigante.
Customer: What is a Grande?
Coffee Barista: It means small.
Customer: Okay, I’ll take a Grande.
Coffee Barista: I thought you wanted a medium?
Customer: I do.
Coffee Barista: Well, that would be a Muy Grande.
Customer: Can I just refill my cup?
Coffee Barista: What flavor?


I can see now why road rage is such an issue. There are too many frustrated caffeine freaks on the road looking for the quick fill of the java.

And what about the shirts, hats and Beenie Babies the big boys sell at their coffee joints? Their thinking must be: If our customers will spend four dollars for a cup of our coffee, they are likely to buy any over-priced item with our name on it.

I guess the coffee shop Im in has everything I need: a place to sit, a table, an electrical outlet and coffee. Theres no big advertising budget, no fanfare and no Wall Street backing. I think the owners of this coffee shop must be smart. Their motto is something like: We let the other guys spend the big bucks so we dont have to.


When you break it down, the woulda, coulda and shoulda is pretty universal and simple – meet customer expectations at a fair price and everything else is window dressing. There is no denying that the bar is being raised every day in this supply-exceeds-demand, consumer-driven environment.

It is a game of inches. Do the little things on time and do them well, over and over again. We all know what these things are – read any trade magazine, visit any big box store. Use what you can (and dont ever forget the first rule of marketing – steal other peoples ideas), and do what you do better than they do as best you possibly can. Be yourself and challenge yourself to get better every day.


I recently had the opportunity to participate in a case study in change management. And believe it or not, the old adage was proven again. Its the fundamentals that win the game. Theres no close when it comes to meeting customer expectations. Its either right or wrong. And maybe we woulda, coulda, shoulda done it differently, but what really matters is how we do it today.

Do you want to put fun back into your job or life? Find the small accomplishments that can be done relatively easily and consistently. And do them over and over again. The big deals, or victories, will come as they are earned when doing the fundamentals consistently well.

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