My favourite coffeeshop brand Bridgehead has just opened a shiny, fragrant new 10th location a short walk from my house. And boy am I excited!
And they’ve done it in bold style – located right across the street from a Starbucks, and just 500 metres West of another Bridgehead in the Westboro area of Ottawa. And I managed to both 1) get a pre-opening tour from store manager Mia and chain co-owner Tracey Clarke, and 2) score the first cup of coffee sold to the public on Friday morning.
Okay so we’ve established that I’m kind of a fan-boy for Bridgehead. But as a brand strategy guy, I also think there’s a lot brand managers can learn from their success.
Top ten brand lessons to learn from Bridgehead:
- Great product consistently delivered – yes the coffee is 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. But they are.
2. Great cause with personal passion – 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.
So 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 they turned it around, and within a few short years built Bridgehead into the quality coffee brand in Ottawa.
3. Local ownership – I’m an Ottawa boy; they are an Ottawa-based chain, so the dollars you spend here go right back into the Ottawa economy… as opposed to Seattle for example. All good. We need more like this!
4. Committed to walkable urban neighbourhoods – despite the obvious pull from suburban areas, the chain has continued to place new stores in traditional main-street areas throughout Ottawa. And as one of the founders of the Wellington 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 the 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 providing “third spaces” for professionals like me to plug in, meet with a colleague or client, and enjoy free WiFi, but 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 reiterate, being incredibly smart about their product and retail fundamentals, they have succeeded by DIFFERING not by TELLING people they were different.