Cafes and Retail Spaces: Perfect Together?

To increase foot traffic, retail and service shops are reinventing themselves by embracing coffee culture.
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Adding coffee to your retail environment can increase customer engagement with your brand. (Photo: Daniel Churchill)

Coffee drinkers would say it’s coffee, not money, that makes the world go round. And more and more retail stores are capitalizing on this love of beans, partnering with coffee vendors to turn their establishments into places to shop, sip and linger.

Historically, cafes have been community gathering spaces. And as retail shops try to lure more consumers by adding events and even public meeting spaces (witness Apple’s big store redesign), in-store cafes may be the next logical step.

“Coffee naturally is a pretty good elixir” for encouraging this social atmosphere, said Nick Brown, editorial director of Daily Coffee News. “It keeps people awake, gets them excited and encourages creativity.”

In a retail environment, Brown explained, coffee can increase engagement with your brand. Customers are likely to spend more time in your store browsing your products and subconsciously start to identify your brand with the the “coffee lifestyle.” And they may be more likely to meet up with a friend to sip and shop versus just to shop.

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Aaron Cook is the co-founder of Three Seat Espresso, ‘an integrated cafe and barbershop’ in the East Village. (Photo: Daniel Churchill)

Way beyond Barnes & Noble

Bookstores like Barnes & Noble were early adopters of uniting coffee and retail. But brands such as North Face, Ralph Lauren and even Cadillac have started partnering with cafes to enhance the customer experience. By building coffee bars within their retail space, they hope customers with a coffee in hand will spend more time — and money — in their stores.

There’s been “a trend towards either brand partnerships or individual brands expanding their efforts to offer a more upscale retail experience,” Brown said. “You see a lot more coffee going into high-end clothing stores and boutiques. It’s a way to get people to settle in, take more time and enjoy their overall shopping experience.”

A shave and a haircut — and a cup of joe, too

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Retail-based, service-based and even gadget repair shops can benefit from partnering with a cafe. (Photo: Daniel Churchill)

Services-based businesses are also jumping on the cafe trend. Aaron Cook, former general manager of the immensely popular Bluestone Lane Coffee in New York, recently co-founded “an integrated cafe and barbershop” in the East Village called Three Seat Espresso & Barber.

The idea came while Cook was getting a haircut from his now business partner, Avi Mavlyanov. “We feel there is a natural synergy between barber shops and cafes,” said Cook. The team wanted to integrate the cafe and barber businesses to create an interesting and engaging service space.

Gadget-repair-plus-coffee shops have opened in New York and San Diego, and some bike repair shops, such as The Wheelhouse in Los Angeles, are adding full-service coffee shops serving espresso and specialty coffee drinks. (Per their website, “We are a bike shop + coffee shop in the Arts District of Los Angeles with a mission to connect community and inspire an everyday lifestyle lived by bicycle.”)

Giving your small business a caffeine boost

Anyone can put out a carafe of coffee for their customers, but it’s unlikely to increase foot traffic. Bringing in a partner that serves specialty coffee, however, can transform your retail environment into a retail experience.

Co-retail partnerships can potentially benefit both businesses. Cafes that can occupy a small space within a larger retail environment “are guaranteed a certain amount of foot traffic,” said Brown. And of course, a cafe can bring more coffee consumers into the retail environment.

Rather than taking a DIY coffee shop approach, Brown recommends a partnership with a professional coffee vendor. This lets both businesses benefit from the other’s presence and leverage each other’s expertise without diluting either brand.

The key to adding a cafe to your retail space, said Brown, is finding the right partner. Ideally, there should be a real synergy between the two brands. He recommended looking for a partner with a similar mission or cultural association so that the audiences will naturally converge.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Offering Free Wi-Fi to Customers

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