Published on: July 30, 2015
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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, again coming to you from the campus of Portland State University in Oregon, where I continue to enjoy my adjunctivity with the Center for Retail Leadership
A few weeks ago, while Mrs. Content Guy was visiting me (she doesn't spend the whole summer here), we decided one morning to go for a long bike ride. I shipped my bicycle out so I'd have it anytime I needed it, but we needed to rent one for her. So, we went off to the local bike rental shop.
When we were there, there was another couple in front of us, and they obviously were not from here, because the guy asked the shop manager if there was anyplace nearby where he could get a cup of coffee. I had to chuckle at this - this is Portland, after all, and all you have to do is throw a rock and you can hit a wonderful coffee shop, not to mention a brewpub, wine bar and/or food store. it's just that kind of place.
Now, I figured that because of where we were, he'd send the couple over to Stumptown, a local coffee shop that I patronize a lot while I'm here; it was only a couple of blocks away. But instead, he pulled out a map and recommended three places I'd never heard of, all of them across the river on the city's east side.
Once the couple left, I asked him why he had not suggested the nearby Stumptown, and he practically snorted. "Stumptown? That's a corporation. I don't send people to corporate stores. I send them to local shops," he said.
Now, I have to admit that this took me a little by surprise. I did a quick online search, and Stumptown has 10 shops - five in Portland, two each in Seattle and New York, and one in Los Angeles. Ten shops ... not exactly in Starbucks' league, in my estimation. Though, to be fair, it is majority-owned by a private equity group that bought its 90 percent stake from the founder a few years ago.
But in almost every possible way, Stumptown is a local animal, albeit a local animal that has made good. Except that there seems to be a kind of overarching perception on the part of some people that once you've made it this good, you're not really of the city anymore.
I've asked around, and this is not a unique perception. People here are so radical in their definition of local that they become suspicious of anyone who does so well for themselves that they spread their wings and go beyond the city limits. When they say local, they mean local.
I have to admit that I find this to be kind of charming, if a little disconcerting. Portland may be a city of fascinating diversity, but in some ways, it is still a small and somewhat parochial town.
But I also think it teaches an important business lesson - which is that it sometimes doesn't matter what the reality is. Perception is what matters - and almost always, it is the perception of the customer that matters most. We may think of ourselves as being local, but if the customer doesn't, it does not matter ... and so we have to adjust, and deal with reality.
That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View: