Are all small businesses always better than big corporate?

I’ve been running my company Seer Interactive in the same neighborhood for 13 years. I’ve had a lot of coffee experiences. I must spend minimum 20 dollars a week having coffee meetings with my team.

13 years * 52 wks/yr = 676 * 20/week = $13,000 from just one patron.

And given that in Philly we’re at ~130 people, and I see execs and others meeting at coffee shops, we’re probably well over 50k in coffee, then we have the clients & individual team members who get their personal fix = 100–150k easy.

The closest coffee shop to Seer is [Café 1]. Good place, good coffee, cozy interior, local ownership, everything you’d want from your local spot. It’s a local business, so we’d like to support em right? WRONG!

Well one day about 7 years ago when we were maybe 25 people or so, our internet went out, and we fanned out in the neighborhood looking for wifi. We walked to [Café 1], as soon as about 10 of us got there I gave 50 dollars to the woman at the counter as a tip, we ordered food and coffee, and went upstairs. The upstairs can hold about 20–25 people.

As we were working for about an hour, someone walked by saying under their breath:

“I hope these people paid somethin’’”

I said, “hey we gave the person at the front a 50 dollar tip” her response

“I don’t get any of that”.

I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to love this being our main place, but we had no where else to go so for years so we supported the place, begrudgingly.

In spite of seeing me and several team members there for YEARS, day in day out. No one knew my name or any names of any of us who came in regularly.

They also made it hard to work with them:

Do you accept Amex: No.
Do you have Apple Pay / Google Pay. No.
Can I charge my coffee — Nope, $10 dollar minimums
No discounts for Seer

They actually made it difficult for us to give them our money.

Oh and the wifi, don’t even get me started, this low trust environment was all about changing the wifi, EVERY DAY, so people couldn’t “steal” from them. So to dissuade 1 or 2 a-holes, they make life difficult for hundreds of REPEAT customers.

I’ve always been a believer that changing rules for the majority , because of 1 or 2 a-holes in the minority is a cultural death trap.

The San Diego wake up call

Seer’s first office in San Diego was near a café called Pappalecco.

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I would go for 2 months to San Diego, and then maybe a week or two here or there through the year. Within 1 year people there remembered me, knew my name, “Caio my friend, where you been?” I’m not even there weekly. So, when I’d fly in after not being there for 3 months, they would say, that is 10x more than anyone at [Café 1] ever said to me.

They made it easy for me to work with them & I wanted to b/c they were just friendly people:
They took my credit cards regardless of amount,
they took my Amex,
the wifi was the same password from a month or two ago.

[Café 1] Gets some competition, YES!

Little do people know, I hated giving our money to [Café 1] so much that I thought about hiring a barista @ Seer. We opted for a machine that grinded beans. :)

Then we got lucky a new café opened up, another local spot, small business. Then I went in, oh god, not only did the manager talk to their people like crap (they were young people) but the baristas just didn’t know anything really about coffee. They closed as quickly as they opened, as much as me and the Seer crew were excited about this new cafe, we all quickly realized it wasn’t gonna work.

Back to [Café 1], GRRRRRR.

The big evil Starbucks came in

Then Starbucks came, people there are friendly very friendly, there’s diversity (I’m writing this from Starbucks and of 5 employees 3 are black males and 1 is a white female and 1 male). They wait for it…accept all credit cards and wait for it, don’t force you to charge at least 10 bux.

I have no idea what the owner of [Café 1] name is, we see each other in the hood all the time, we’re strangers even though us being in this location has added 6 figures to her biz.

At the end of the day, Starbucks is much more customer friendly, when you walk in their baristas are friendly, today (4/23) 4 people said hello when I entered, 4 people of 5 said hello.

Yesterday the manager said more to me in 1 day than the owner of [Café 1] has said to me in 6–7 years!! He asked me why I’m there so much.

The WiFi, OH THE WiFi!!

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Log in once and we’ll remember you… ummm THANK YOU!!!

No more daily tap dance of, large latte please, oh and whats the wifi password?

“Capital A, Dollar sign, Dollar sign, five, seven, snow white, capital P, Philladelphia” every single day.

Not to mention, their baristas (part time and full time) are given opps for 100% tuition free college, improving their upward mobility (in a city with the third highest income gap and the biggest poverty rate in the US).

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I love when I’m in there seeing 8–10 Seer staffers coming through. We’ve abandoned Café 1 (for the most part). You can only get away for so long treating your customers like crap.

I for one, as a 13+ year resident and business owner in the neighborhood am thrilled to have a company with this kind of impact here.

So next time you assume that a small business is better for your community, I would stop and think in most instances, probably, but not always. These things are nuanced.

Now, if there was a La Colombe or a Saxby’s closer, I might have to reconsider, cause, well how could you not love Todd & Nick.

Written by

Serial Underdog @seerinteractive doing SEO, Marketing, & Stuff, I am whatever you say I am.

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