16 November 2014

Free Coffee at Waitrose!

A gorgeous cappuccino, created with love, Fairtrade and Organic by My Coffee Stop!

Update January 31st 2015


This blog entry was originally written in November 2014. Waitrose, though, have just recently announced that their Free Coffee offer had ended but the message was confusing. Gunter and myself were told by several customers and even a member of staff at +Waitrose that free coffees would be ending in February of this year. So, it seems that customers are understanding that they can't get their usual free takeaway coffee at Waitrose and even some staff have misunderstood. 

Now, I don't know if this was a deliberate ploy on the part of Waitrose, to give out a confusing message that would be misconstrued, so that most customers wouldn't bother trying to get their free coffee and if anyone did complain, or get upset, it could gently be explained to them that the free takeaway coffee offer is still actually available. So, only the complainers would get free coffee and the others would taper off, which means that Waitrose manage to keep the most vocal of their customers happy and get massive PR and headlines at the same time, perfect manipulation of the media and fogging of the issue. Then, when they announce, later in their game plan, that free takeaway coffees are now being stopped, they will get even more headlines! 

I couldn't quite believe the headlines and the rumours that were being circulated, so I decided to get in contact with Waitrose via Twitter to understand precisely what the position was, exactly. Full marks to a massive company like Waitrose employing savvy Tweeters that do their job well, answering tweets efficiently and politely. A big thank you from us to those Tweeters for making things clear for us, so that we could really understand the situation.

The truth of the matter is this: 

1/ If you wish to sit in a Waitrose Cafe, with a free coffee, you can, as long as you have purchased something else to go with it. 

That seems fair for Waitrose, the customer and for the coffee market, including nearby independent coffee shops.

2/ If you wish to have a free takeaway coffee from one of these cafes, you can, just take it out and it's still completely free.

3/ If you are in a shop that has a self-service machine, then you can still help yourself to a free coffee as normal, I have seen tweets saying that the cups are now 'hidden' and that you have to show your card to get one, so they've put a few more controls up but your free coffee is there for the taking.

4/ If you go to a shop where there is no self-service machine, then you can order a takeaway coffee at the counter and it is still FREE.

This is FANTASTIC news for people that love their free Waitrose coffee, you can still get it, don't worry, unfortunately, it does effect our ability to be able to grow our business.

Luckily for us though, most of our customers choose us because they care about the taste of what they are drinking, they care about the ethics, sustainability, the Fairtrade and organic certification, they care about the personality, the banter and the atmosphere of our little community coffee shop, they come to us because they love our attitude and our damn fine coffee, rather than because we are giving our product out for free!

Our customers vote with the pound in their pocket and they have voted consistently for us over the past 6 years since we opened in February, 2009! Thankfully our customers are a united bunch of people who think carefully about how they spend their money, the bigger repercussions of how much is fed back into the local economy and what they are really buying from us and what they are really buying is a positive change in mood. Our customers come in early in the morning, on their way to work, they want a smiling face, some care and a fantastic coffee, to enjoy on the train! They can feel good that they have chosen to support a local, independent coffee shop and making people feel good, is what we are best at!

All in all, I'm not so sure if Waitrose's free coffee offer is a threat to our business, perhaps it is actually a bigger threat to the viability of their own business. Once they realise the impact on their own success, they will withdraw all free coffees, where there is no minimum spend from the customer. 

PS. If you want to save some pennies at My Coffee Stop in Enfield, please bring in your own mug, for a 50p discount off any hot drink! Or you could even bring in a reused cup from another shop. Putting it bluntly, go to Waitrose, get your cup, with or without the free drink, reuse it in our shop and claim your 50p discount from us!

Original Post from November 2014, starts here....

Ok, ok, I am a coffee shop owner and have a vested intrest in seeing Waitrose stop giving out free coffee. Putting that to one side, I am very interested in fairness, ethics and sustainability when we shop, Waitrose was one supermarket that I actually felt good shopping in. I felt they had strong views about corporate responsibility and sustainability.

I haven't stepped foot in a Waitrose for about 1 year now. Why? I do not like lies or misleading information. Waitrose have claimed in the media, that they give coffee out to grocery shoppers to thank them for shopping at their store. Actually, they don't, they give free coffee with no purchase necessary, as stated in the terms and conditions on their website.

Free hot drink
1. Offer available to all myWaitrose members on presentation of a myWaitrose card in store.
2. One per myWaitrose member per day.
3. Only Americano, Cappuccino, Latte, Tea, Mocha and Espresso (Decaffeinated versions, Mocha and Espresso available in selected stores only) qualify as a free hot drink.
4. Selected stores only, excludes Costa Concessions, online, petrol filling stations, Shell and Welcome Break.
5. Subject to availability.
6. No purchase necessary.
7. Cannot be used in conjunction with other Café or hot drink offers.
8. At any till the myWaitrose card must be scanned to activate the offer. Quickpay customers must scan their myWaitrose card at any point during their shop.

There is also no time limit given for the promotion and no promotion of how good the coffee tastes, or how sustainable and fair that the product is. I wonder where those beans are sourced from. I am sure if it was Fairtrade coffee, they would tell us, as part of their corporate responsibility branding.

Is it fair that a large organisation that claims to be ethical, responsible and sustainable is able to continue to hand out these free drinks and directly threaten or challenge, little independent coffee shops near by and directly effect the local economy, negatively? Well, of course not and yet people are very possessive over that free coffee and if I make whinging, whining negative comments about the lack of ethics, or sustainability behind the scheme, they whinge and whine back at me. Nothing must stand between them and that much needed freebie, that they feel they deserve, especially as the green roots of economic recovery are looking rather brown and withered. Getting something, for absolutely nothing is a novelty these days and who minds taking it from a large corporation? If it is truly for nothing, is another story, seeing as you are inadvertently taking part in market research, each time you receive a coffee, by getting your card scanned and details read and your information and your routine logged.

The dynamics of the Waitrose free drink offering are very interesting indeed, for instance, I have heard several reports and jokes about how awful some people find it tastes. But why would they keep going back to get another one and another one? How long do you have to spend waiting in a queue, diverting away from your usual stroll and taking up your time to walk into Waitrose? How many times have you gone in for the free coffee and come out with other things that you realised suddenly that you 'needed'. How convenient did that feel and you had a free coffee too. Of course you know how it works, the cost of the coffee is a promotional tool, that is paid for from the shopping that you do in there. It's almost like a slight of hand magic trick.

The free hot drink promotion by Waitrose is not doing anyone any good, least of all their own business, which has issued a profit warning. If I were a member of Waitrose staff, I'd feel upset that I had joined a company that calls itself ethical and they had spent my potential share dividends on giving non-customers a reward, where no purchase is necessary. Basic business sense, ethics and a regard for sustainability suggests that a minimum spend would have to be a qualifying factor, for a free hot drink promotion, over such a long period of time.

I am amazed that Waitrose have recently won an award for sustainability, when this promotional activity is unsustainable.

The way I see it is simple, Waitrose are destroying my business's chance of growing, therefore, I cannot support their business practices by shopping there. They have lost hundreds of pounds from me, as I have lost faith in the way they do business and of course their free coffee is an unfair challenge to my business, the free coffee is also damaging their business, not just the cost of giving out the free drinks but the cost of customers boycotting Waitrose because of this economic unfairness. I'd love to know if Waitrose staff had the chance to vote for or against this unprofitable scheme.

7 November 2014

I'd rather have the shop empty!

There is a definite problem with some landlords, in Shepton Mallet keeping rents artificially high. I am lucky enough to have a landlord who understands the difficult economic times and who has been flexible enough to negotiate the rent with us. They told me that they would rather have someone in the shop than having it empty.

Today, I took the liberty of phoning a different local landlord, who was not being at all flexible on price, to have a discussion about this problem, that is not helping to regenerate the High Street whatsoever!

The landlord said, 'I would rather the property stayed empty, than rent it out for less than I want to'!

I replied that surely it would be better to let a business be in there for nothing, or at least a reduced rent, with a signed agreement stating they would get out as soon as someone was available to rent the unit at the required price. The landlord said that there was no way that they would entertain that idea.

Although the person I was talking to seemed to me to be on the defensive at first, I think they understood that I was looking for common ground. We had an interesting conversation where we agreed that the public, the shopkeepers and they, as landlords, would all want to see the regeneration of the High Street, however, whereas shopkeepers like to blame the lack of business sustainability on the landlord for charging too high a rent, this particular landlord likes to point a finger at the public and blame them for choosing not to shop at the local shops and choosing not to support them. The landlord said that the public need to support the shops and use them, if they want them. Then the public have made noises about Shepton Mallet High Street saying that the shopping choice isn't strong enough, that there needs to be a Marks and Spencers, or Waitrose, to draw people in to the centre. The shrinking Friday Market is another issue that needs addressing. Some people have said that the market is held at the wrong time of day, on the wrong day of the week, saying that if you work, you can't use it. Others have complained that the quality of the fruit and veg is hit and miss. Some people say that the market needs to start at the top of town, so that it can be seen from Tesco and draw people into town and some say it needs to go back around the market cross, off the road and that the road should be kept open, instead of being closed on market day.

Would we be worrying about these things if the economy was strong? I don't think so, things would just be ticking along nicely.

Perhaps the reason that it's so difficult to run any business at the moment is because the economy is so poor and generally, people do not have the money to spend, so the landlord waiting for the public to support the local shops with the limited amounts of money they have is futile, they are looking to the people who are struggling the most, the people whose wages have decreased, or stayed the same despite inflation and VAT increases, to spend at the same level they always did but they cannot, they are expecting people who have been made redundant, or had their hours at work cut, to maintain the same level of spending as they did in more affluent times. In asking the public to support their customers, do the landlords of the buildings in the High Street actually come into the high street and support the high street, do their shopping there, do business meetings there, do they think about where they shop and where they spend their money? Hang on a minute, this is ringing a familiar bell in my head, once again an image is conjured up in my mind of someone at the top getting people to spend money with them and then those people deciding not to spend their money in the local community and it all gets drained away to goodness knows where, just like a messed up water cycle, where if it's not sustainable, it will dry up and there is nothing left for anyone.

I don't know what the answer is but I do know that shopkeepers, landlords and shoppers are all stakeholders in the High Street and we all have to work together, not to keep things the same but to move into the future, to embrace change.

If we all point the finger of blame at each other, we will get nothing done, we have to innovate and create a new way and we have to learn how to understand what motivates a landlord. Maybe they are correct not to budge on the price, or is there a way of calculating a shop's worth with a formula, could it be that a fair rent for the unit could be, affluence grading of the area (where the higher the disposable income, the higher the grading, from 1 being an economically challenged area to 10 being an area with a large disposable income) x shop size (where the biggest is 10 on a scale and the smallest is 1) x average footfall per day, as measured over 1 year = ?  Then divided by 3 = your monthly rent in pounds.

It tickled me when in The Journal rents in Glastonbury, with much higher footfall and more disposable income and in Wells where again, there's more cash and feet about, were compared to the rents for similar properties in Shepton Mallet and judged to be in line but unfortunately, the footfall and affluence of the area wasn't taken into consideration.

The properties in Shepton are in general, priced too highly for the footfall and the area. A campaign, not against the landlords but to work with the landlords to consider what could motivate them to make changes, would be an amazing step forward, I believe.

Maybe the law needs changing, maybe there could be a law saying that no unit can be empty for more than two months and in that time, the local council have responsibility for using the shop front as a way to advertise other local shops, businesses and services, like a big colourful billboard.

I'd love to hear your ideas about this.

What can be done to regenerate our high street, to move forward with the times?

2 November 2014

Another Shop Shuts in Shepton.

Helping Mike Alford and his family and in turn, helping to protect our High Street by successfully campaigning against Tesco installing a Timpson pod at The Townsend Retail Park, gave me a warm glow and a real sense of achievement. Today, though, I feel like a firefighter who has been fighting one blaze, only to turn around and see that another fire was burning and the sustainability of another business on our High Street has been under threat. That business, Penny's Sweets, right next door to our shop, has now closed. Jenny Penny is pleased to take on new opportunities, which is a good thing but I feel gutted that they have closed.

I came to Shepton Mallet with the aim of helping to revitalise the High Street, to help visitors and locals to realise what brilliantly cool shops we have. Right from the word go, Jenny and her family were very welcoming, as our shop neighbours. I particularly enjoyed the support that Jenny and I gave to each other. I sent customers to her, she sent customers to me.

The closure of Penny's Sweets is a real blow to the High Street. To me it looks like a row of teeth with a space, where one has been knocked out, there's a gap, a big, vacant screaming gap. I'm trying to be thankful that the only casualty seems to be the shop, rather than Jenny or her family. Taking the decision to shut your shop is a very difficult process and it can destroy some people, so I take great solace in the fact that Jenny has retained her sanity and health. However, on a personal level for me, I feel so upset by this, I can hardly gather together my motivation to go into work today.

I've never thought about what it feels like for the shop keeper of the shop next door to the one that closed, before. In this instance, this shopkeeper feels very, very upset and sad, it is almost like there has been a death. I feel like crying and do, sometimes, when I walk past that closed door. I have in my mind the image of a happy, lively place, which is now a tombstone. I might get that a bit more into perspective soon but that's how it feels to me right now.

My morale is rock bottom and I want to blame someone. Basically, it's your fault because you didn't pop in enough and you didn't buy enough, or is it the fault of the economy, with the prison closure, the Co-operative bank closing and so on, or maybe is it the fault of the council, the accountancy firm at The Mill moved to Wells, as they couldn't get planning permission to expand their offices here in Shepton, or maybe it is my fault, I was completely focused on saving the High Street from the Timpson pod, depleting footfall even further, whilst in the meantime, my neighbour's business closes? Now I pose myself the difficult question, did my business help or hinder the business next door?

I like to think that I bought more visitors into town and I promoted Penny's Sweets to my customers and to all my visitors, I also talked about Penny's Sweets on social media. I like to think I helped the business next door to me but did I truly? I set up a Shepton Mallet Shops website to support all independent shops and businesses in the area and a Facebook Group, Discover Shepton Mallet, to let everyone know about these kinds of hidden gems. It wasn't enough, more needed to be done. Doing more in these times is like riding a ship in a storm, with one hand on the steering wheel, (If that's what it's called on a ship), whilst bailing out water, with a bucket, with the other hand.

I know I can't take on responsibility for the whole High Street but I do have to accept at least some responsibility for there now being an empty shop, next to mine. If I don't then I deny myself the power to make changes and make a difference in the future.

So, for the while, let me feel sad and analyse what I can do better in the future, with your support.

1 November 2014

English Heritage and Shepton Prison

So, it seems the two bids from two Shepton Mallet locals have been rejected by the Ministry of Justice and the bidder that they are negotiating with is....................
Well, the mystery bidder hasn't been disclosed to the public, I believe this is to protect commercially sensitive information.

I don't feel this is very fair to our community and I feel the process should be a little more transparent. The only way for us to keep a tab on what's going on at the moment, is to look at any planning applications that might come through.

In the meantime though, secrecy annoys me, so I have been trawling the internet for more information. After a good few hours this is what I believe is happening, English Heritage, are working with Mendip Council and Purcell Architects, in their negotiations. Afterall, the prison is a Grade 2 listed building which means it is of special interest and can't be adapted any old how.
Looking at the English Heritage's portfolio of past projects, I can see they often create innovative solutions and challenging concepts. Their projects seem to be carried out in sympathy to the original building and sometimes additions are in complete contrast to the original, which can look stunning, or could perhaps can look overwhelmingly challenging. Their developments seen to embrace the design ethos of the present, as well as respecting the past.

I feel confident in their ability to create something great. I am not confident in their ability, at the moment, to create something that will inherently improve our community, unless the process is more transparent and there is a public consultation.

English Heritage are experienced at working with the local authorities and their teams to create visionary solutions but I for one, would like to know what their vision is in this instance.

Are they going to turn the whole lot into homes, or will it be homes and mixed leisure use, or will they do the right thing and ensure that the history of the prison is harnessed to create a destination, worthy of a visit from holiday makers, visitors and locals? We really do have a wonderful heritage here in Shepton Mallet, embodied by that prison, HM Cornhill.

The prison closing has adversely affected the local economy with job losses and a knock on effect for the High Street too. Let's hope that the problem, can now be turned into part of the solution.
What do you think? Please let me know.
Update: November 6th 2014. Since writing this blog, The Shepton Mallet Journal has had confirmation from English Heritage, that they did not bid themselves but have only assisted in the bidding process. The Ministry of Justice is still not revealing who they are in negotiations with. Don't we have a right to know?