Earlier this week we posted a piece on our thoughts about the art of sketching words and the relationships we forge between the analog and digital tools we use to do our work. To emphasise our point we shared a sketch that outlined our ideas for a future (today’s) entry. A few friends dropped by to offer their thoughts on the sketch and some great ideas were shared about the notion of putting pen to paper in this digital age. If you missed that piece you can check it out here.
Based on that sketch here’s the question we want to ask you today:
“What is your favourite coffee shop?”
There is a reason beyond simply wanting to know your preference in coffee so please stick with us.
Are you a big boys lover like Tim Hortons (mostly Canada), Dunkin Donuts (we see these in Florida a lot), Starbucks (everywhere) or Second Cup (Canada again) or is it one of the small boutique specialty shops that compete in the fray with those behemoths? Yeah, I know, depending where you are from, there are others. For example, have you ever heard of Tully’s who has 101 US stores or Caribou with 464 US stores? Both are pretty big in their own right.
What are the big chains in your area?
With over 7,500 stores in North America you may likely say Starbucks but I am sure there are others that we have never heard of that permeate your city or town.
Here in Toronto, Canada (the center of the universe – hardy har har har) we have our own fair share of the big boys. Tim Horton’s, while not my style (is it really about coffee there anymore?) is nationwide, has over 4,000 stores and holds 62% of the market share in sales compared to second place Starbucks at 7% of the market share in sales representing just over 1,000 locations nationwide. Both seem like they are on every corner in this town. Wow! Now that’s some volume at Tim’s huh?
But within the fray of these giants what also interests me is the little guy that makes up the remaining 31% of the market. There are literally thousands of small shops doing their own thing. Toronto alone has had over a 100 new independent shops open since 2008. There is something to that.
Each one, big brand or small independent, has its own unique style, offering and atmosphere. I have my favourites and I am sure you have your favourites too. You may be one of those no muss no fuss major chain sort of people or you may gravitate toward a boutique coffee shop. Whatever works for you works for you.
Why all the coffee shop talk? Ha.
Well, we thought about writing a brief comparative opinion between the giants and the small guys as it relates to servicing their clients. In relating that back to architecture + design we wanted to look at how the relationship of service compares between the big national design firms and their approach versus the more boutique firms that exist among their midst.
When we think about the big boys we think about consistency.
Consistency in product, delivery, efficiency and output. If you go to one shop, regardless of the layout, the service levels and product is always consistent. A latte across town is the same latte as you get anywhere else. Every time. These big guys focus on process. Don’t you agree? The process of getting you in and getting you served. There is little time for small talk or really getting to know you. Yeah, I know, if you go to the same coffee shop day in and day out it is inevitable that the staff, if it remains consistent, will get to know you and we all know that’s likely more prevalent in the small shops. The big guys need to make sure they can feed the monster. Get the sales, push a diverse product range and ensure the customers get the consistency they deserve no matter which store they visit. It’s not necessarily about getting personal. There is a job to do and it gets done. In and out!
There is merit in that.
And how about the big design firm mentality?
They become generalists. They can serve a large client base because they have adapted to allow themselves to offer a broad range of services. Specializing in one market sector is not common and rightly so. Developing a broad base of skills allows a client to get the same standard and level of service no matter their location or type of service they require. The art of process is, in this case, critical in order to maintain the volume of work necessary to meet its needs. Diversification into market sectors drives progress and sales and in order to respond to market demand assets are shifted and grown to assimilate the workflow necessary to respond to the projects. Efficiency, consistency and diversification of skills ensure the client base receives the service levels expected from a national perspective.
All good stuff.
Is there room for a one off there? A specialty project? Maybe but not likely on a consistent basis. Small or specialty projects can survive in this environment but not with consistent success. Meeting the expectations a small project demands can burden the processes established to manage workflow in this environment and can derail the efforts of the mainstay projects that the firm thrives upon.
Isn’t the specialty coffee shop well suited to meet these expectations?
Think about the last time you went into a boutique coffee shop. You likely got to meet the owner. The owner who developed the offering, spent time to select the product, develop the brew and served it with care and passion. One cup at a time. Think about the decor. It’s likely eclectic. It reflects the individuality of the owner. The attitude of the shop is in everything from the decor to the menu to the service. The cup is specific, precise and served with meaning and heart each and every time. You may not consider going to a coffee shop like this unless you are willing to wait. There seems to be an ease about the place. The love for the art of the brew is what keeps their customer base coming back; that and the cool factor that seems to come with each offering.
Heart and soul in a cup.
A boutique design firm expends its resources on the art of design. Process is not necessarily the main focus of a project’s resultant output. The focus on precise design and its intricacies take precedent. There is a central edict of care not unlike polishing a fine stone. Every cut, detail and principal of the project is examined. Its intricacies drive the resulting output and are enabled by the attitude of the firm’s staff. The design and its process are derived by the advantage of more personalized relationships developed between the design team and its client. The driving factor for achieving results, its value proposition, is focussed directly on the love of the craft.
That perfect cup. The jewel.
So, after all that what’s your preference?
Just like a preference for coffee you most likely feel more aligned with one or the other attitudes and offerings of the two extremes we looked at here. Sure, there are all sorts of permutations out there with formulas that work and that don’t. It’s really about where you feel you fit in and which approach holds better value for you whether you are the customer or the employee.
So, which camp do you fall in?
Or do you feel there is scalability to each approach?
Can a boutique shop deliver the consistency that large scale project delivery demands and not lose its individuality that makes it unique and niche? Can a national big gun deliver highly specialized service that is finely tuned and focused on the true art over the generalized consistency necessary to maintain its market share?
It’s just a coffee, after all. Right?