January 22, 2015

Writing on the (Yelp) Wall

In yesterday's Hartford Courant: Jojo's Coffee To Close At Month's End

If you can't get past the Courant's new paywall, the story is (mostly) a "...local business driven away by the economy and a big bad corporation..." (in this case, a new, nearby Panera)
The past few months for the Pratt Street coffee shop have not been good. It has lost money for the first time since it opened about 15 years ago. At the end of this month, he said, the shop will close.

"The last six months have been the toughest for us businesswise," said Sze, 56, standing next to the giant red coffee roaster, occasionally picking at the beans.
But buried deep in the article, some more fundamental truth:
He said for the hundreds if not thousands of insurance workers nearby, only a few darken his door. "A good amount of them come out and want something fast, and our setup is not designed for that."
Visiting the Jo-Jo's business page at Yelp provides ample evidence of this. Some snippets from many reviews:
  • "I have been loyal and loving. I have been forgiving, even though they have one very rude barista. Recently, it's been closed for no posted reason on days when they say they will be open."
  • "Hours read: 9am to 3pm on Sunday. I drove here on a Sunday obliviously expecting the place to be open. It was closed! Post your hours correctly!"
  • "When you have one person to act as cashier, barista, and general helper, you're going to get lines (check), slow service (check) and then rude service (check)"
  • "Rude, brash service at the register when asking about breakfast sandwichs with eggs.  Lady pointed up near the roof like I was stupid and I almost just walked out yet hunger can make you tolerate such."
  • "I've been here several times and had great service. Today was terrible, the cook was rude, the cashier was rude. Made us feel unwelcome. I will most likely not come back."
  • "I wanted to love Jojo's so much, and time and time again I have not been able to. Hands down, the biggest issue with Jojo's is the timing of it's service." 
And it's not like this is a new issue. I visited in October 2012, and in my Yelp review, wrote:
As I stood in a short (3-4 people) line, I watched as 5-6 people came in, stood in line for a bit, and left. I can just see a corporate coffee place coming in and kicking butt with the location - which would be a pity on a "local business" basis but probably a boon for those wanting a cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon. 
Back in 2008, I wrote about The Romance of Small and Old Things and spoke of another beloved Hartford coffeehouse, La Paloma Sabanera.
Hartford recently lost a mini-landmark, La Paloma Sabanera. And it was a good place: great coffee, great people, a commitment to the neighborhood, a central gathering place for many communities. But it was not making money. And as a small business owner, I know that if you do not have income, you can't pay the rent, the heating bills, the cost of goods sold. It's just a matter of time before one runs out of money or energy, and has to close shop. But oh how romantic! How special a place! Would the shop have been any less special had it focused more on it's bottom line and less on the greater good? Perhaps. But it might also have remained open, to fight again.
I've only visited Jo-Jo's a few times over the years, and have never had a wonderful customer experience - and I'm probably batting about 0.500 when it comes to actually walking out with something to drink (as opposed to walking out empty handed because I did not have the time to wait). Multiply that by the "...hundreds, if not thousands..." of potential customers that Jo-Jo's has disappointed or turned away over the years, and you get the idea that this failure is less about Hartford, less about chains, and more about an inability to recognize the customers' needs and/or an unwillingness to meet them. 

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