Whoever said “humanity runs on coffee” was not far off the mark. In our shop, humorous magnets with a coffee theme sell well. Coffee mugs sell well. Coffee grinders and coffee makers sell well. But for some stores, there is retail salvation to be found in a cup of java.

On a recent visit to NY, I walked past the esteemed men’s clothing store Brooks Brothers. I’m sure that when this venerable institution was founded in 1818, the owners would not have predicted that 201 years later the first sign to catch my eye would be for the Red Fleece Cafe. According to the company PR, “Our Red Fleece Cafe is an oasis of retail therapy (and coffee-scented aromatherapy) for the busy city lifestyle.”

The gift shop in the art museum at the University of Wisconsin here in Madison is currently closed for the addition of the Chazen Cafe, a coffee shop that will be housed inside the space formerly reserved just for retail. And today’s local paper carried a feature story about a bike shop that in addition to its regular products features a coffee counter complete with a professional barista.

One way to compete with online sales is by offering something that consumers can’t get on the Internet, and a “Triple, Venti, Soy, No Foam Latte” definitely falls into that category. (It also qualifies for the Huffington Post list of the most obnoxious Starbucks drink names, in case you need a laugh today.) Younger customers seem to respond well to the idea of combining a social opportunity such as having coffee with an opportunity to shop.

Selling coffee is a very different business than selling gifts, so your first move into the coffee world might be to examine the possibility of subletting space to an existing coffee shop looking for an outpost. Set up a clear contract, with your lawyer’s input, to spell out what you expect the person operating the cafe to provide, and what aspects of the operation will be your responsibility.

If you want to consider adding coffee to your store’s offerings on your own, be sure to check with local regulations regarding restaurant licensing and food safety. You will want to make sure that you have the required refrigeration, sinks and dishwashing capability – and to make sure that your staff is trained to provide the same high quality in a cup of coffee that they expect in the other products you sell.

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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