Saturday, May 23, 2009

More Expensive Than Starbucks

A customer came in the other day while I was manning The Spro, looked at our prices and remarked:

"You're more expensive than Starbucks."

Ah, the trials of operating an espresso bar in a suburban public library. It was a swipe. One borne out of perhaps frustration and misunderstanding. Frustration that an "indie" coffee place wasn't cheaper than the national brand Starbucks and a misunderstanding because he just doesn't understand exactly what we do.

Oddly enough, it really didn't bother me. Somehow, I've come to accept the fact that what we do just is not suitable for everyone. There will be some who understand and perhaps recognize the quality (and therefore, the value) of what we do, and others will not. The Others will be satisfied with whatever their current coffee experience is - and that's perfectly acceptable.

Perfectly acceptable because we're not advocating mere "satisfaction" by coffee. We're advocating a sensual, stunning and evangelical coffee experience. We want our guests to be stoked that they came to visit us. We want to surprise and dazzle them. We want them to come in, expecting to find some perfunctory coffee, and be shocked to their core. Shocked that something so tasty would be found in such an unlikely place.

To do this requires expense. The Spro isn't built on a multi-hundred thousand dollar buildout, like Starbucks. Nor do we utilize superautomatic espresso machines with their push-button functionality. We are craftspeople striving to provide the best product possible by sourcing the best ingredients available.

It is this commitment to our standard alone that drives our prices. We're not out there sourcing the cheapest coffee possible. Nor are we using the cheapest equipment, or the cheapest milk. In fact, our milk costs more than most dairies nationwide. Our milk costs more than two times what people pay at the supermarket. And everything from our syrups to our drinks are made by hand.

The average barista candidate at The Spro takes roughly one month to train. That's one month of salary, coffee, milk, cups and more - just to teach that person the bare minimum to be a "barista." For a company as small as ours, the investment is staggering.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I thought the persons' comments were thought provoking. Why are our prices higher than Starbucks? For one thing, with thousands of stores, they have economies of scale that we could never match. To match prices or, God Forbid, price our products lower than Starbucks just because, is a near guarantee of crushing failure.

As for myself, there's always the possibility of economic disaster and business failure - especially during these economic times. But I would rather fail providing the standards we have committed ourselves than to fail by attempting to be "cheaper" than Starbucks.