So I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Orlando right now, thinking I need a military firing range to get some peace and quiet to get some work done. I’m on a working vacation this week and have tried several different local coffee shops and this Starbucks, but I haven’t had great luck.
Compared to even the mediocre coffee shops in Indianapolis, I realized not every coffee shop gives a crap about their customers, let alone the returning ones. If I lived here in Orlando, I can imagine I would be on a months-long quest to find a decent coffee shop where I would want to spend several hours at a time. I thought I had a winner with one — gorgeous decor, nice ambience, and it was quiet — but the wifi was nonexistent (something about Macs not being able to interface properly with their router). I turned to a Starbucks as a last resort, but was bombarded with the same Starbucks experience: too loud, snail-slow wifi, and bitter coffee.
Entre-commuters (telecommuting entrepreneurs) often work from coffee shops for their meeting, turning a small two-top table into a desk for the day. And the good ones pay for the privilege, spending office rent money on coffee instead. For those of us who entre-commute even a few times a week, finding a good coffee shop can mean days, weeks, and months of rabid loyalty, which can turn into hundreds of dollars a month, and a few thousand in a year, from a single customer. Returning and loyal customers are often the lifeblood of many small independent coffee shops.
Here are five ways coffee shops can earn ongoing business from entre-commuters.
- Turn down the damn music! Most Starbucks blast their music at concert-level volumes. I’ve got my earbuds on in this one, and it’s still painfully loud. The music should be the backdrop to the coffee shop experience, and not the reason we’re here. It’s not a freaking concert. For entre-commuters who want to have meetings in coffee shops, they don’t want to do it where they have to shout to be heard.
- Have wifi system accessible by all operating systems. I occasionally run into coffee shops whose routers can’t handle Macs. “Something about the Mac’s security codes don’t quite line up with the router,” say the baristas. Many of the entre-commuters I see have Macs. While it’s not an even 50/50 split, there are enough freelancers and small business owners who use Macs that you’re alienating a big part of your audience by not giving them access.
- Have a wifi system that doesn’t choke when more than three people are on it. Most wifi systems can handle more than a few people, but if your system gets hung up when more than four users are online, you need more bandwidth. Otherwise, you’ll only ever have more than a few users in your store. The wifi system at my favorite coffee shop doesn’t start bogging down until 12 or so people are on it, and even then, it only gets slow. It doesn’t stop.
- Have a meeting room or place where people can get a little privacy. The coolest meeting room setup I ever saw was at a Starbucks in Louisville. It was a refurbished community bank, and they kept the two meeting rooms. They set up a program where people could reserve the room for $50. They would then receive a $30 coffee card to share with their guests. Another Indianapolis coffee shop, South Bend Chocolate Company, has a meeting room they just share for free, on a first come, first serve basis. Both places are regular stops for businesspeople who need a casual meeting place.
- Have a lot of power plugs for laptops. If people don’t have a place to power up, they won’t hang out. The good coffee shops have a power plug every few feet. The bad ones make 20 people share one plug. With some basic rewiring, or even creative use of some power strips, they can give laptop users a place to plug in and recharge while they get work done. I know a lot of people who avoid certain coffee shops because they don’t have any public plugs.
While some coffee shops may want to avoid the entre-commuter crowd, they aren’t looking at the big picture. A good entre-commuter should spend around $4 every couple hours, dropping $8 – $10 in 4 – 5 hours. These regulars are worth $50 per week, $2500 per year. Having a group of regulars who are each responsible for $2,500 a year should be the goal of the owner of any decent coffee shop.
To be fair, entre-commuters also need to learn to be respectful of the coffee shop owners who need to turn tables in order to turn a profit. Spend enough money to justify your taking up the table for several hours, or go get an office. Practice good entre-commuter etiquette.