retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Marketplace, on National Public Radio, had an interesting story the other day about a retailer that is dealing with changing consumer habits by changing the way it charges customers.

At the typical coffee shop, the story notes, people often seem to spend a lot of time reading, chatting, surfing the web and turning the shops into an extension of their offices or homes - while maybe buying one coffee (albeit often an expensive one). This is sort of what Starbucks had in mind when it built an entire chain around the "third place" strategy, though it may not have occurred to the company's leadership that some people would stay for quite so long or spend so little.

In Brooklyn, New York, however, one coffee shop has found a new way. There, the Glass Hour Cafe "feels more like somebody’s living room than a coffee shop. Walking around, you see a couch, some bean bag chairs. What you won’t see at Glass Hour: a kitchen or even a cappuccino machine. You serve yourself from a simple drip coffee pot. The food? A few humble granola bars and chocolates.

"The owners, who opened it in August, call it an anti-café. Instead of shelling out for food and drink, customers pay for the time they spend - 10 cents a minute or $6 an hour. Which means no one will judge you for sitting here all day long."

To be clear, "Glass Hour isn’t profitable yet, so the founders are still waiting to see if there’s a market in America and Brooklyn, land of coffee shops, for their imported idea."

But I think the idea - which seems like it was positively made to be tested in Brooklyn - illustrates a larger notion. Companies cannot and should not always do things the same old way, just because they've always done them that way. in fact, in the current competitive environment, that's probably the best reason to abandon old strategies and tactics. The odds are pretty good that they're simply not up to the task anymore.

A friend of mine, Beau Fraser, co-wrote a book several years ago that focused on this, and the title vividly illustrates the book's premise: "Death To All Sacred Cows: How Successful Business People Put The Old Rules Out To Pasture." (You can find it on Amazon here. I recommend it heartily.)

I have no idea if the Glass Hour will be successful or not, but I do think the counter-intuitive exercise is worth undertaking. For everybody.

It can be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: