A Prairie Dog Place

English: A black-tailed prairie dog at the Nat...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always found pictures of prairie dogs popping up from their burrows to be hilarious. There’s something about the idea of this small animal getting a better view of its surroundings that just makes me smile. This made me think of some experiences I’ve had lately with smaller local businesses.

For the past few weeks I’ve had some meetings at a local coffee shop. Being in the Seattle area, differentiating an independent coffee shop from the Big Boys (Starbucks, Seattle’s Best and Tully’s come to mind) is no easy task, but Hot Shots Java is doing just that. My colleague, who suggested it for our meeting, “waxed rhapsodic“, so to speak, about it. I’m not a coffee drinker (a bit unusual, and somewhat blasphemous around here, but there you go….), so the challenge for any coffee shop for me revolves around what the alternatives are to coffee.  I usually go with a chai tea latte, with mixed results. Hot Shots is the first place I’ve come across where I’ve had a choice of flavors for the chai tea! Normally it is just spiced, but they have several others, which impressed me.  They also hand out small sticks of chocolate with each drink, and chocolate is the Express Lane to my heart. I got one…it was lovely.

The actual facility is very homey. The times I’ve gone in, there have been the same group of about 5-6 women obviously having their daily confab, a mother or two with child in tow, and at least one or two other “wireless warriors”.  They also offer locally baked goodies and ice cream behind the counter, and art work by local artists on one wall (for sale, but discretely so…). I never feel hurried.  Even though I’ve only been there a few times, I’m greeted and treated like a regular.

My experiences to date at more corporate coffee shops like those noted earlier were OK, but I never felt ‘at home’. It’s not that the shops were completely uninviting. I guess the best way to describe it is that the corporate shops feel like “a business” but Hot Shots feels like “a place“. Sure, that’s a pretty subjective call, but since we make decisions, AT the point of decision, with our emotions, “a place” wins for me.

This is how a business ‘pops’. In the general noise and broad prairie of corporate sameness, having a business with a personality that is more human, that takes on the atmosphere of “a place” (which is a very human construct) is a distinctiveness that drives customer loyalty, word-of-mouth and recognition. “Shop Number 476” of a corporate enterprise just doesn’t have the same thing to offer.

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