STARBUCKS MIGHT have got the (unwanted) headlines, but independent coffee shops are very much part of one of the UK’s biggest news stories of 2012. phil howells, who part-owns the Manchester coffee shop Caffeine and Co, says it could be the start of a revolution.
"As I sit and write this, the lead story on the radio is about MPs attacking Amazon, Google and Starbucks over paying no, or little, corporation tax. Last week the CEOs of Dixons and John Lewis argued that high-street companies that actually pay UK tax would struggle to maintain their competitive positions in the face of this unfair competition. They were talking about Amazon. But it’s Starbucks and its no- tax-paying peers at Caffè Nero that I am interested in.
Last month’s news reported Starbucks is caving in to the taxman and offering to pay more as a direct result of threatened boycotts against it. People will realise slowly that they endorse the behaviour of companies like Starbucks and Nero by using them – ergo they can force them to behave
in a way that serves the greater good by boycotting them. I believe this issue will become as big as organic or air miles in sustainability debates over the next year or so.
Where we are located we have a Starbucks and a Nero within 100 metres. Both stand on fantastic premium sites, supported by nationwide ad campaigns that we can assume are subsidised by their tax avoiding policies. If John Lewis is struggling how the hell do we compete?
We compete, simply, by being better than they are. At Caffeine and Co we make all our cakes, buns and muffins by hand ourselves and we source the very best ingredients possible for our sandwiches. We set ourselves extremely high standards for each coffee we make, as it’s our signature product. We aim to make as good coffee as the best shops in London, New York or Melbourne and we consistently achieve this. We have grown organically since the day we opened, and that generally is how cafés like ours grow, through word of mouth and positive PR.
The question is: do we try to take advantage of the perceived unpopularity of Nero and Starbucks by marketing directly against them? An ad perhaps saying “Much better coffee and we pay UK tax”. I doubt that would suit our brand, but we will keep emphasising that we sell a far better product and let the chains slowly commit hara-kiri through their poisonous combo of awful product and nasty business practice.
I would be fascinated to see how much damage has been done to the takings of the chains in London where there is a really strong scene of indie coffee shops. If there is a template for a revolution against the chains it is happening there. I see in my shop that when customers shift away from the chains to the much better coffee that we sell, they stick with us. Truly I cannot see why, given the choice of chain or indie, anyone would choose the chain, but they still do.
There is a great power in brand value but I have no doubt that if all the UK’s top 150 ind”ies were called the same thing, and therefore created a brand with excellence at its core, then the chains would be terrified"