The art of the merchant

So we worked our way around the coffee shops in our local village. And the all have one thing in common: inconsistency. Eventually we grew tired of it and moved on to the next one. At present we frequent the Gloria Jeans store for our morning brew.

GJs does not necessarily enjoy the status/ brand image of a specialty coffee store and my experiences with them has been mixed. (This experience in Canberra was an exception.) Consequently they were the last resort on our coffee journey. But we found happiness and satisfaction and here is why:

Any retail business is a people business and the usual crew is great: friendly, consistent and generally pleasant to deal with.

They were willing to make our coffees the way we like them even though it is not ‘standard’.

They accommodated us without making us feel like a nuisance – even though it probably is.

Whilst these are all contributing factors, there is nothing new in all that; but here is the main reason:

Making coffee looks easy.

Clickety-click and you fill the head with ground coffee. Tamp it down and screw into the machine. Press a button. Steam the milk. Add together. Call out to the customer.

The reality is much different: The type of bean. How it is ground. How it is stored. The exact volume of coffee and how hard you tamp down. Using fresh (not re-heated) milk and getting the temperature just right. The angle with which you fill the cup. And the genuine smile when you hand it over to the customer.

Similarly, being in retail looks easy but it is not.

At least it is not easy to do it well.

The true professionals – the merchants among us – understand this and deliver this. They make difficult things look easy and they make the customer feel comfortable while they are at it.

In your store it is not about coffee. But what is the equivalent of the brand of milk and the coarseness of the grind? What is the equivalent of how tightly you pack the coffee in the filter basket?

Above all, how genuine is your smile?

Easy, but hard.


  • GANADOR: Architects of high-performance retail environments.