Creating a modern coffee shop experience within the supermarket

April 27, 2012

No matter how big or small the town, sharing a cup of coffee with other members of the community is a long-standing American tradition. Supermarkets can offer traditional experience in the stores while adding a modern touch.

During the late seventies and early eighties, in a small town just 45 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia, members of the community congregated in the mornings, at lunchtime and in the afternoons for a coffee break at the one and only store/gas station in town. And they didn't just gather to get their caffeine buzz - it was more about the conversation and networking with their community. The population of that town has now grown to almost 30,000, and that mom and pop store no longer exists. Large grocery chains, convenience stores, food franchises, and shopping centers have replaced their once one-stoplight town.

This story is true for many towns across the nation, and with deeper investigation, one may find that the common thread is that as towns grow, many people miss the neighborly ways and social structure of their less populated town. If it was coffee that brought them together, then why can that not still exist in larger communities, particularly at the supermarket where so many other needs are met.

In 2011, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) reported there were 22,549 coffee shops in the country - an 18.4% increase from the previous three years. However, in the previous two years, 2,500 shops had to close their doors. And the SCAA predicted 6.6% more closing by the end of the year.

What does this mean for supermarkets? It means more opportunities to offer that coffee shop experience inside the store. Many supermarkets are expanding prepared foods departments, creating more dining-in spaces, and specialty coffees are also now being offered. As The Lempert Report has said before, supermarkets can position themselves as a flagship for the community by offering not just a place to check off the grocery list, but also meeting other community a place to meet up with neighbors and share a cup of coffee.

But it may take more than coffee to attract these folks and a little creative effort on a store's part to create the modern coffee shop experience. Here are some TLR suggestions:

- Have a coffee happy hour. During 4pm-6pm, or 6am to 8am for early risers, offer a reduced price on coffee, and to give it an even more personal touch, pick out theme days that cater to specific types like teachers, seniors, moms, police officers, cycling clubs, etc.

- Incorporate technology. Modern Americans love their laptops and tablets. Offering wifi to attract customers is a no-brainer, but how about offering mini workshops or technology helpers for seniors who haven't had the chance to really learn to use computers, but would love to know how to Skype with their grandchildren, or connect with friends on social networks, or upload their photos.

- Offer loyalty points to frequent shopper card carriers when they check-in to your coffee shop, and give them an opportunity to earn more points by checking in their friends.

- Use entertainment to attract customers. Acoustic music performances by local musicians can be a great attraction. Also, story time for kids in the mornings is great opportunity for moms to get out of the house with their children and socialize with other mothers.

- Offer coffee hour with the store's dietitian. Give participants the option of having a free 10 minute consultation on their personal nutritional needs. Also, a weight loss club could be an exciting way to motivate members of the community.

- What about a free coffee vouchers when customers reach a certain number of loyalty points? This could be through their grocery purchases or coffee purchases alone.

There are plenty of ways to create excitement and appeal for your coffee shop. Keep in mind, the idea is to create a mini community center, so they won't just come for events, but they'll become regulars that come for great coffee and most importantly, friendly faces!