Nearly once a day, whether it be for a morning boost or an afternoon pick me up, I walk over to my favorite local coffee shop, Crema BK for my "usual" (large latte). This has become a comforting part of my day, a pattern that gets me away from my computer and out into the fresh air. My journey there is about a five minute walk, which takes me past at least two other coffee shops along the way. Sure, I could duck into another (a temptation when I'm in a hurry or it's raining) yet every day like clockwork I always turn to Crema, and not just because of their hands-down-excellent, never-misses-the-mark coffee and snacks. It's also because of their outstanding customer experience and the brand culture that founder Jin Han and his wife have created there in just under a year.
Throughout this past year I've often traded my "coffee customer hat" for my "small biz expert hat" when returning back home armed with a latte, and taken notes on what other business owners can learn from the success of Crema BK. How have they sustained such steady, consistent and relatively quick growth in a trendy neighborhood overrun by coffee shops? Why do so many people, from locals to Yelp customers pledge their allegiance to this business? What are they doing that all of us can apply to our own businesses - no matter what we do? Read on and find out!
The Customer Service and Experience is Everything:
Most small business owners are (at least initially) the actual person interacting with customers whether in person, online or via email. It cannot be overstated how important it is that you look and act like you love doing what you're doing. That you value being of service to them. There can never be an "off" day when you aren't pleasant or inviting, when you aren't making their experience a good one. Prior to Crema opening shop we'd visit other local other coffee shops that were "pleasant and present" about 65% of the time. I don't want to be taken care of 65% of the time, I'm paying you 100% of the price for a 100% awesome cup of coffee and experience. When you have interns or employees join your team, they should do the same. Gin, his wife and their employee Max never cease to welcome customers, they know your name, they know your drink, they know what is going on in your life. They don't ever appear flustered, rushed or stressed out. This in turn means that we keep coming back because let's face it, when you're paying for something, customer service and experience is everything. [*Editor's note: see what I mean after this article! Search the reviews in the press and on Yelp and get to know how much people enjoy interacting with this team.]
Become an Eager Student of Your Craft and Industry
Jin and his wife started Crema in part because of what can only be described as a healthy obsession with coffee. Many a morning or night when there is a momentary lull in customers they can be found in the back of the store experimenting with coffee recipes, creating what could be the most spectacular Chai in the city, and in general just learning how to do what they love even better. Opening a business doesn't mean you close down the education and learning aspect of your job. We should always be finding ways to create better - whether it be a product or service. One's craft can never be mastered. In the past year we've all watched (and participated) as the Crema team improved upon and expanded an already awesome drink menu by teaching themselves to develop not just any old Chai Tea Latte and Cold Brew, but the kind of drinks that lead to customers demanding the ability to access them on a bigger scale, which leads me to...
Expand Your Offerings & Let Your Customers Guide You in the Process
As I mentioned above, after Crema opened and all was running smoothly, Jin began inviting his customers to participate in a taste test of sorts, sampling different versions of a homemade chai he was experimenting with. We would gulp down shot glass-sized cups of the concoctions while his wife diligently marked our selections in a notepad. Fast-forward a few months later and "the perfect Chai" (in a larger, take-home size for DIY Chai drinks) was being offered at Crema. The same thing happened before they introduced their take-home Cold Brew bottles. This is a perfect example of letting your customers weigh in on the product creation process, as well as diversifying your product (or service) offerings once the sale of your core offerings is running smoothly.
What some of us think are "little things" that may or may not matter, that may or may not be worth the effort, are nearly always worth the effort. In fact in most cases, a brand and its story are built on little details. At Crema this means that everything looks, feels, smells and sounds pleasant, cool and a little cheeky and, well, "Crema". They know their brand, they know how it should look, feel, and sound. The design aesthetic they bring to their shop is carried through the shop from the art on the walls to the hand stamped mustaches on their coffee cups, the fresh flowers in the windows to their well designed and organized display cases. Nothing seems out of place. Whether you are based in a brick and mortar store or office or online, think about the little details. Think about your design - no matter how simple. Make firm decisions about what should stay and what should go design wise, and if it stays be sure on why it should. A brand should never be filled with real or virtual tchotchkes - unless that's your brand "thang".
There you have it folks! Four lessons that like a cup of coffee are quite simple, yet also like a cup of coffee can go wrong when the proper effort and time isn't spent mastering them. Go forth and let this coffee shop guide you as you grow an awesome business and brand experience; and should you ever be in Greenpoint, Brooklyn pay the Crema BK team a visit and tell them Sabina sent you!