Beans n Cream takes on Starbucks

For Sun Prairie bakery and café with just three locations, a new, branded order-ahead app is the first step to competing with the coffee monolith.

For a small bakery and café with just three locations, competing with the likes of Starbucks doesn’t sound realistic. But with the help of a local tech startup named Drip, the Sun Prairie-based Beans n Cream is aiming to prove that small businesses can have nice things, too.

When we last spoke to Drip co-founder and CEO Jack Pawlik, he was just finishing up his senior year at UW–Madison and launching his fourth startup, Drip, an app that allows users to pre-order from their favorite coffee shops and earn rewards while doing it. Since that point in March, Drip has grown from working with just one location to a lot of the shops in Madison and now the three Beans n Cream locations in Sun Prairie. Additionally, Drip has a few locations in Iowa and Nebraska it works with, as well.

Beans n Cream got connected with Pawlik and Drip when one of its store managers, Meghan, came across the app at another coffeehouse in Madison, says Jeff Gauger, Beans n Cream owner. “She actually set up the initial meeting with Jack to get some details about Drip. We felt like the Drip platform may fit our needs but did not wish to share the spotlight in our market. Though some discussion with Jack, it was decided that there was an opportunity to create something new and specific to our business and customers.”

Gauger notes that Beans n Cream is a relatively small, locally owned company with just three locations in the Sun Prairie area and a focus that’s always been on its customers and community.

“We feel that an order-ahead app is an extension of our customer service,” explains Gauger. “We are trying to make getting coffee from us simpler and more enjoyable for our customers. While we do not have the resources that a large company such as Starbucks has, we are a lot more nimble. It is a lot simpler to build an app for three stores and train staff and customers on its use than it is to build an app for 6,000 stores. Partnering with Jack, a local developer, made a lot of sense. We were able to hash out all the details face to face over a cup of coffee. That’s not something most large companies can do.”

According to Pawlik, the Beans n Cream app is entirely branded for their business with their own logos, colors, and icons. “The benefit for them was being able to have us build it using the same infrastructure as the Drip app, which is already very reliable. They did not need to start from scratch and figure out all the complexity of developing an app.

“The app allows Jeff to post content directly onto the app in addition to offering order-ahead and rewards features,” Pawlik continues. “I think this provides a special way for his customers to stay in contact with a favorite local destination. It offers the same conveniences of a larger chain like Starbucks while still having the charm of a local business.”

One of the great benefits of the app and this partnership is that customers downloading the Beans n Cream app are contained within the Beans n Cream platform, says Gauger. Meanwhile customers on the Drip platform are still able to find Beans n Cream and order ahead as they do at many other coffeehouses in the Madison area.

The turnaround on the Beans n Cream app has been quick — from start to testing and a soft launch this week — only taking about a month, notes Gauger. Because most of the work was already done with the Drip app as a foundation, the custom app was not cost prohibitive. In fact, most of its cost will actually be covered by increased processing fees per order, but Gauger believes that’s a small price to pay for the convenience to Beans n Cream customers.

“We are trying to achieve a couple of different things with this order-ahead app,” explains Gauger. “First, this is the direction the industry is going. Quick service restaurants and coffeehouses need to be convenient and quick! An order-ahead app allows the customer and the operator to shave minutes off of ticket times. We feel like a segment of our customers will really appreciate the convenience of this new app. Serving them was our primary motivation.

“[Second], as a business, we realize that when we serve customers efficiently, it opens us up to serve additional customers. It is our hope that an order-ahead app allows us to grow our customer counts and customer frequency.”

Gauger also notes that in today’s labor market, it can be a challenge to find qualified employees. An order-ahead app takes a bit of the pressure off staffing-wise. “We foresee a time when we may not need as many staff members because of the order-ahead app. In many ways, this direction is similar to the self-checkout stations popping up at retailers and grocery stores. Again, the customer experience is paramount! We will continue to make every effort to connect with our customer.”

It’s Gauger’s hope that Beans n Cream could eventually get 30–40 percent of its daily customer base through the order-ahead app.

“I feel it’s important for a small business to think like a big business,” says Gauger. “In many ways, being small is an asset as it allows us to be nimble and test out new ideas and concepts a lot quicker than a national chain. My advice to another small business owner would be to take the leap. Figure out an economical way to test the concept and measure the results.”

According to Pawlik, other local coffeeshops are already heeding that advice, contacting Drip because they are looking for the same type of platform, and “this is definitely something we will be doing in the future with other local shops who would want to control their branding.”

Like the Drip local café ordering app, Beans n Cream’s app is available for both iPhone and Android.

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