Intelligentsia’s popular black cat T-shirt. Photo courtesy of Intelligentsia Coffee
[W]hen a coffee or tea company is so beloved that customers clamor for branded merchandise, those items can not only serve as advertisements, but also increase your average spend per customer. Mugs and T-shirts printed with your logo are an obvious choice, but creative operators have found other merchandising opportunities including pins, tea-infused candles, and a few surprises.
Here’s a look at three very different approaches to merchandising for coffee and tea shops around the world.
Spill the Beans
San Diego, California
Walking up to the counter in Spill the Beans, customers are greeted by the words “pot head” illuminated in neon against a giant black coffee pot on the wall.
“People come in and think, ‘Is this a dispensary? Is this a CBD store?’” says manager Connor Nerat. “They come in and realize it’s an awesome coffee pun. It resonates really well with our customers.”
Spill the Beans has shaped much of its merchandise around its cheeky “pot head” sign: Beneath it, floating shelves display merchandise that includes mugs and T-shirts with the sign on one side and their bagel/coffee logo on the other. They also have a T-shirt with the slogan “Get Toasted.”
The shop’s “pot head” popsockets (plastic circles that stick to the back of a smartphone) have also been a hit with customers.
“[They] can grab it if they’re leaving San Diego and don’t want to haul around a mug,” he says. “That’s been one of the runaway successful merchandise.”
Nerat admits that at one dollar each, there’s not a huge profit margin on the popsockets, but says they’re functional and more integral to customers’ lives than a postcard.
“It definitely does put the name out there, which we like,” he says. “It’s something people can utilize every day. I have a ton of ceramic coffee mugs. How many of these mugs can I possibly store?”
Nerat feels that merchandise adds value to any sized coffee shop.
“Food and coffee are things that people remember the taste,” he says. “You want something to be able to remember that in the physical aspect and…have a nice little souvenir to take home with them.”
Scottish tea seller eteaket has sold tea-related merchandise since its launch in 2008.
“It was always about the tea so we wanted people to be able to have the experience at home as well,” says founder and managing director Erica Moore.
The company wholesales teas from around the world and also operates a tea room and a retail shop, both in central Edinburgh.
“For about eight years, we just had the tea room and we did find it quite hard [balancing serving tea and selling merchandise],” says Moore. “You want to be able to spend lots of time with the customers, show them how to make tea lattes and cold brews.”
To that end, in 2016, eteaket opened its retail shop, where they offer tea flights and “meet the maker” events. They also put together tea collections for special occasions such as Mother’s Day. In addition to mugs, infusers, and teapots, eteaket has sold “tea bag” tote bags, notebooks printed with sayings like “But first, tea,” tea-infused candles, and organic lip butter made from tea.
Many of their retail items are created through collaborations with other businesses. For instance, they worked with a local potter to design a cross between a pot and a teacup. It’s called a “bubble cup” because “you lose [yourself] in that moment,” according to Moore.
They also collaborated with a brewery to create a tea-infused beer.
“We’re not short of ideas but it’s getting the time to implement them,” says Moore. “It does take a long time to get it right, but it’s worth it when you get something special.”
Getting clarity on eteaket’s values helps Moore assess potential partners before creating new items.
“It’s all about networking and collaborations,” she explains. “It should work for both parties and help grow both parties.”
Even in a small shop like hers, she recommends selling tea, trinkets, and other branded merchandise, because they “help to increase the average spend and makes the customer happy. You don’t need a lot of space to make it work.”
Multiple locations, U.S.
Each of Intelligentsia’s locations in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and soon-to-be Austin draws inspiration from its neighborhood, according to Intelligentsia marketing manager Britt Berg. Just as the vibe varies from location to location, so does the selection of merchandise.
While Intelligentsia’s signature filter mug is sold at all locations, the local team curates the rest of the merchandise in each location.
“Baristas and managers pick what goes on the menu every day,” says Berg. “The same goes into merchandise. We send them what we have available. If it’s location specific, usually they’re already involved in the design process.”
Each Intelligentsia location carries a pin that represents the location.
“Things that are low-ticket items but nice little souvenirs work really well by the register,” adds Berg.
The distinctive blue and white tile at Intelligentsia’s Silver Lake location in L.A. has become Instagram famous, which has led to several Los Angeles locations carrying merchandise with the iconic pattern. However, even those who don’t live in L.A. can get that particular piece of memorabilia: Intelligentsia also sells its merchandise online, so if a customer wants a specific item that’s not sold in their location, they can order it.
“We’ll do different mugs, different pins, sometimes bandanas or coasters,” says Berg. “We try and come up with different things that aren’t mug and T-shirts.”
Still, branded mugs sell well, especially in downtown locations that are frequented by tourists.
“Locals and tourists alike love to take something back that reflects the city that they were in,” says Berg.
Intelligentsia’s black cat T-shirt, inspired by their black cat espresso, is another popular item.
“It’s an item that we will never get rid of because people love it,” says Berg.
To operators who are considering selling merchandise, Berg recommends “being thoughtful about your selection [and] seeing what resonates with your customer and building from there.”