Faces.

Apparently, I need to start writing shorter and sweeter posts. Then maybe all the thoughts going on in my head can make it out. Right now there’s about 6 thoughts I’ve been wanting to share, but haven’t been able to prioritize.

Something I’ve been contemplating for a good while now, are the many faces of Intelligentsia. This is the largest company I’ve worked for. It’s very different from simply being part of a local cafe with a staff of 10. There’s much going on, and it can be hard to keep up with all the growth and changes. Granted, this post is coming two years after jumping on board, but I think some of that has to do with how much has changed in the last year. It’s all great and for the better, and we’re heading in amazing directions, but it’s presenting interesting challenges.

The greatest challenge, is showing our regular customers what Intelligentsia really is. To them, we’re a coffee bar. A local spot, which has gained a painful reputation for being where all the neighborhood hipsters hang out. We’re the trendy cafe. This may be what they see on the surface, but I keep looking for opportunities to key them in on what’s really going on…

I recently found myself sitting in a neighboring wine bar, talking with a woman who has lived in Silver Lake for 8 years. Quickly, our conversation turned into her explaining why she doesn’t feel cool enough to sit at our coffee bar and drink our coffee, exaplining that the too-cool-for-school crowd drives her away. Instead, she goes to the spot on the other end of the block. It’s more affordable, and she’s been going there for years.

It pains me to know what many of our customers will walk in and out without really getting the full story of why the coffees on our shelves are so different. The part of the company that makes me the most proud is our sourcing. It’s the work that Geoff Watts, Sara Kluth, and Kyle Glanville are doing. It’s the relationships we’ve established that have yielded such spectacular results. Yet, it’s hard to get everyone who walks through our doors to understand it.

At the same time, we have a collection of geeks and foodies who do care. They do understand, and they share our coffee with friends, often in the best way by telling them the story of Direct Trade and why we are so different.

Twitter and the different blogs out there are also breeding a new kind of customers. The web-geek customer. We’ve been getting interesting phone calls at the store from people in Arizona and Oklahoma who want to buy our coffee and are curious about where the best place is to buy it, and how can they learn more information.

I think the next step to spreading the word of what we really are about is to further our in store education. When we opened we held a weekly home brew class. It’s something I’m hoping we can bring back to life in early 2010. Also, we’ve talked about holding more tasting events when we release new coffees. I’m all for putting more energy and store resources into getting people to taste coffee with us. Giving them a forum to try new things, while hearing more of the story behind the beverage.

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2 thoughts on “Faces.

  1. Hey mate,

    I reckon communicating the essence of a big company such as your’s is an awesomely challenging idea, especially because of the relatively simple and short interaction coffee places have with their clients. Maybe linking your ‘real world’ customers to the massive body of ‘cyber world’ customers and critics somehow would help to illustrate your big picture. This would take any strain away from your face time with customers, and possibly help stimulate more interaction on the customers time, online. Really like your blog man.

    Cheers,

    Nic

  2. YES.

    At the Venice shop, we get a lot of people coming in for a lot of different reasons. It’s not always so easy to tell what the reason is, & sometimes I wonder if it really matters. If the too-cool-for-school person pops in every day for a gibraltar or three, the business is sustainable (as a business) & it’s sending that success on up the chain, all the way back to the farmers. Yay.

    But it’s a wonderful thing to be given the opportunity to talk to that customer about Direct Trade & to blow their Yirgacheffing minds.

    Secret: I used to be intimidated by Intelligentsia Silver Lake. It wasn’t the hipsterdom. It was the knowing — people seemed to KNOW something about it, & I couldn’t discern what that thing was, & though I could taste a difference I didn’t know how to begin to describe it. I find, now, when people ask me “What’s different about Intelligentsia?” that talking about Direct Trade is a good way to start. The DT relationship rewards good, quality work from the farmers, which in turn produces a better bean, better processing methods, import, roast, & then we have the great honor to take it from there.

    But it’s the people who were like I was that I worry about. It’s hard to volunteer that kind of information, especially because it’s kind of an involved conversation, & sometimes they just want their damned latte already. Recently a new friend learned I worked at IntelliVenice & said immediately “That place is too fancy for me.” I was truly saddened & tried to reverse that perception. I’m still not certain I was successful.

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