Top ten brand lessons to learn from Bridgehead:
1. Great product consistently delivered – yes it’s fairly traded, organic, and shade grown, but Bridgehead puts great care into the quality, variety, and freshness of the product. The rest of my top ten list would matter not a bit if the beverages, treats, and lunch items weren’t top notch. They are.
Oh, and on the innovation front, BH managed to scoop Starbucks on the custom coffee front. Just as the Seattle mega-java purveyors were buying the Clover company BH was able to get a small number of the uber sexy Clover Machines before Starbucks stopped selling to cometitors.As a result, Ottawa coffee lovers will get to taste Clover coffee years before Starbucks ever brings the technology to its Canadian stores. Wired.com reviews the Clover.
2. Great cause(s) – Tracey Clarke got into the coffee business after visiting Central America in the 80’s and realizing that the local people were producing incredible coffee, but they couldn’t get any of it because of a) export monopolies, b) prohibitive prices, and c) shamefully low prices for their beans. She and a partner bought the original Bridgehead brand from a well-meaning charity that was way over its head trying to run even one retail store, then turned it around, and in a few short years has become the quality coffee brand in Ottawa.
3. Local brand – I’m an Ottawa boy. They are an Ottawa-based chain; the money stays in town. All good.
4. Committed to walkable urban neighbourhoods – despite the obvious pull from suburban areas, there are no drive-thru windows at any Bridgehead (yet). The chain has continued to place its new locations in traditional main-street areas throughout Ottawa, and as a founder of the Welling ton West BIA, I can tell you they have been very supportive and active in street-level retail initatives and issues.
5. Really nice people – the founders are level-headed, approachable folks, and their approach has attracted strong staff in the stores. Employees tend to be older, better educated, and “hipper” than in the other shops around town.
6. Great spaces – real attention to the usability of space. Nice blend of lounging, working, and conversation spaces, Bridgehead has been refining the blend with each new store they build, creating a noticeably more “human” place than the average Starbucks or Second Cup.
7. Family friendly – because of the demographics of many of their host neighbourhoods (and fact that most of the management have young children), they’ve proven much more open to non-coffee drinkers in the stroller set, plus toddlers and school-aged children. Creates a lot of noise at times, but on the weekends, my kids love to visit.
8. Business-friendly – after some wrestling over the prevalence of laptop “campers” in some early stores, Bridgehead has struck a nice balance between open areas and places to plug in, and free wireless with a one-hour limit.
9. Strong retail branding – their online and social-networking presence could use some definite work, but in terms of creating a brand experience outside and inside their stores, they are hard to beat. This is due to the active involvement of the founders in every aspect of store design, so it will inevitably become increasingly challenging to sustain as they grow further without more formal “policy” work. But the fundamentals are very strong.
10. NO ADVERTISING(!) – this may sound strange on a “branding” blog, but remember this site is about brand strategy, not advertising, so I don’t make my money from media buys or column inches purchased. Bridgehead has managed to accomplish all of the above without spending a penny on traditional advertising. Again, this may have to change as they grow, but by reaching out through social-justice oriented circles, supporting like-minded causes, lots of “in-kind” community contributions, and to reitierate, being incredibly smart about their product and retail fundamentals, they have succeeded by DIFFERING not by TELLING people they were different.