Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another coffee shop, please

Mercer Island enjoys plenty of nice coffee outlets, but why do I have to drive to Seattle for the really good stuff?

Slate this week makes a good case for why Starbucks actually helps mom-and-pop coffee houses:

According to recent figures from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 57 percent of the nation's coffeehouses are still mom and pops. Just over the five-year period from 2000 to 2005—long after Starbucks supposedly obliterated indie cafes—the number of mom and pops grew 40 percent, from 9,800 to nearly 14,000 coffeehouses.

There are so many great ways that a local coffee house can differentiate itself on Mercer Island.

  • Exotic varietals in small batches that Starbucks, with its huge volume requirements, can't match.
  • In-store roasting: talk about fresh.
  • Clover coffee machines (your $11k investment will quickly repay itself)
  • Free internet access  (Starbucks makes you pay)
  • Kid-friendly areas so the kids can occupy themselves while Mom chats with her friends.
  • In-store meeting rooms, available by reservation for group meet-ups.

David Schomer from Seattle's Espresso Vivace has many more tips in his excellent guide to how to compete with Starbucks.  And all of this is especially true for a Mercer Island location, given our proximity to the world's finest roasters and more in Seattle.

The margins on coffee are ridiculously high.  A mom-and-pop operation could even compete on price -- undercharge Starbucks, at least on basic items -- and still make be profitable.  Mercer Island consumers are not particularly price-sensitive, especially not in the morning, and would love to have a high-quality alternative to the same-old-same-old.

So how about it?  Anybody want to go in on an investment in an independent coffee shop?

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