March 1, 2011
We’ve talked about hotdesking on this blog before. It’s a Fast Horse perk that allows us to work from wherever. It’s pretty cool, but in my two years at the agency, I’ve struggled to find the ideal place to work away from the office.
Maybe I’m just picky, but the reasons have varied: too loud, Wi-Fi is spotty, coffee is weak, too crowded, lack of danish variety, parking sucks, too far away, etc. Since moving into my new place in Uptown a few months ago, I’ve worked from Urban Bean Coffee a handful of times and haven’t had these complaints. I’ve found its environment very conducive to productivity and thinking about stuff, two things that are fairly important in our business.
Plus, the place is just cool. From the raccoon logo and “I Love MPLS” t-shirts they design and sell in-house to the music, coffee and scones, it’s pretty sweet. I’ve also noticed word-of-mouth and the shop’s social media presence growing, so on a recent hotdesking day, I felt compelled to catch up with Greg Martin, owner of Urban Bean, to learn more about what he’s doing to differentiate his business. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell me a little about the background of Urban Bean. How long have you been around?
Urban Bean opened in 1995 on 27th and Hennepin. The 3255 Bryant Avenue location opened a year later and we occupy that space today. We sold the Hennepin location in 2000.
All small businesses have to compete with bigger competitors with larger marketing budgets. Your situation is no different as you have to compete with the Starbucks, Caribous and Dunn Bros. of the world. What do you try publicize about Urban Bean that differentiates it from these large chains locally?
We think that it is important for the people of Minneapolis to understand that as a locally owned business, we have many advantages over franchises like Dunn Bros. and national chains like Starbucks. I ultimately make all the decisions and have 15 years of experience that helps me do this correctly. I consult local marketing and design people when needed and employ one main graphic designer. Local MCAD grad John Vogt has the distinction to hold this title.
We only buy from local vendors like Our Roaster and Dogwood Coffee. Our soups, breads and pastries come from Turtle Bread. All of the music is hand-picked by the baristas and myself. It does not need to be OK’d by the corporate president in Seattle. All baristas go through weeks of training on our Synesso espresso machine before they are ever allowed on bar during an actual shift. The overall vibe is hip, young, clean, efficient, and professional. I am in there everyday to insure the operation of Urban Bean is always living up to this.
With the way your walls are decorated, the “I Love MPLS” apparel, raccoon logo, cool buttons and coffee mugs, it’s pretty obvious you guys are pretty savvy when it comes to design. Have you always placed such an emphasis on art, fashion and design? And can you talk a little about the importance of good design when it comes to marketing a local business?
Art, fashion and design are all hobbies of mine. It has been nice to incorporate these things in the Urban Bean and Urban Ware brands. We have people come in to the store daily just to check out the wood laminate we used for the bar. It is also very common to see new customers stop in to purchase the “i love mpls”~ Urban Ware stuff. This all leads to more coffee sales and a broader brand awareness.
In addition to your use of design, you’re also pretty active on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. What has the rise of social media meant to your shop?
The rise of social media came at a time when the economy was very bad. The recession was happening and many people were being laid off. The sales were seeing a hit as a result. It was nice to use Twitter and Facebook to connect with people even if we were not seeing them in the shop as often. It became clear pretty fast that this new free method of marketing was starting to bring some of these people and lots of new people in to the store.
I’ve seen the #jmu612 hashtag on Twitter a lot in recent months. What is this and how has it helped raise awareness of the Urban Bean?
#jmu612 is a little like the social media breakfast event only a lot more intimate. We limit the amount of tickets to 65 and we hold it in a coffee shop. We will always keep it small in order to make sure connections are being made. It is on the first Thursday of the month at Urban Bean at 8 a.m. There are always two speakers and a Q&A session. Topics include: marketing, social media and other related fields.
(Photo via Eastvold Furniture)