Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Why We’re Supporting Independent Coffee Shops

Statistics still suggest that Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero remain the most popular coffee retailers in the country, and, perhaps surprisingly, recent research has shown that Greggs is regarded as the highest by Brits in terms of value for coffee. However, there has also been a rise in popularity of independent shops, bars and cafés – more opened last year than closed. Why are “independents” growing, and why are we supporting them as well as our favourite chains?

Director at the Local Data Company, Matthew Hopkinson, explained that “the growth in independents, the ‘silent majority’, is a significant factor in preventing vacancy rates [the amount of vacant shops] rising in our town centres and also reflects the consumer response to a more personal and unique offer that many independents bring.” Indeed, scrolling through Instagram, the bombardment of photos of latte art suggests just how much importance customers place on the experience of “going for a coffee”, and not just a take-out cardboard cup with a flashy logo. However, I’m not an expert on coffee, and Instagram alone cannot explain why customers are supporting the increasing number of independent coffee shops as well as their beloved chains.

Nottingham boasts an array of independent coffee shops as well as all of the high street staples. To shed some light on what makes independent coffee shops stand out in such a caffeinated crowd, Tres was willing to share her experience as co-owner of the highly popular, multi-award-nominated independent coffee shop, Wired.

Wired describes itself as being fiercely independent, but what does that mean in practice?

“On a day-to-day level, for instance, we are quite clear that we want to support independent suppliers. In terms of the coffee supplier that we have, they’ve now grown quite a lot, but they’re still a fiercely independent brand – they have a particular ethos and way of doing things. Part of being independent means that you’re not encumbered by all of the bureaucracies that surround chains. We have the possibility to say, ‘okay, something’s not working; let’s do more of it or let’s do less of it. Let’s have a truly independent way of doing things that isn’t being dictated to’. It goes in terms of the stock we have, it goes in terms of the coffee that we have – and that attracts a certain demographic.”

So why is it so important to you to be independent?

“I guess it’s because it’s mine! So what Wired becomes is the vision of what I wanted it to be. And I think the pressures are constant to be delivering something that is more generic; people will come in and say, “What’s the drink that Starbucks does?” What we want to do is engage people and be able to say, ‘yes, you can get that – however, the way that we do things here is because of the quality of the product that you then end up with’. So it might not be the biggest drink you have but I think it will be the nicest one.”

Wired has a weekly blog on their website and also hosts events. Do you think customers want more than a simple cup of coffee nowadays?

“I think they do. I think it’s about identification, and a sense of belonging. We’re situated in the creative quarter in Nottingham and I think by positioning ourselves both geographically within the creative quarter but also within the ethos of what the creative quarter is about, it attracts people who see this as a place to be, as a social destination; and so with that comes the requirement to engage in more. It’s not my vision to be able to put on events – my vision is for other people to say ‘I want to do this, can we do it at Wired?’ Part of the ethos of Wired is engagement with our customers: it’s a level of engagement which I don’t think you get from anything that isn’t independent.”

Would you ever consider opening more branches?

“Right now, no. There is a really interesting debate around when does an independent cease to be an independent. I don’t have the answer but I have lots of questions about it! I think that is quite an interesting concept.”

Ultimately, it all boils down to the coffee, right?

“For us at Wired, it’s all about the coffee. That has to be paramount to what we do: in terms of the training, in terms of the consistency – every cup of coffee at every moment during opening hours has to be to the highest standard. It is just tantamount to the success of Wired that our coffee remains the priority.”

It’s certainly not hard to see why Wired attracts so many loyal customers. The urban-chic interior is suave and vibrant, but there is still a comforting charm about it, and the aesthetics are not let down by the chilled, fresh playlist – which, probably not incidentally, also foregrounds indie music. I immediately understand what Tres meant about engagement with the customers: the staff are friendly and jugs of iced water flow for free, as does the wifi (of course). The range of homemade food and drink on offer is tantalising, from “posh” breakfasts to superfood salads to decadently decorated cakes. These beat the pre-packaged nosh of chain outlets hand-down. Faster than I expected (and faster than waiting in line at the Starbucks round the corner), the promise of that quality cup of coffee is delivered – and what a delivery. The exquisite artwork is seconded only by that first sip: the taste of pure, honest, and passionately crafted coffee.

Photograph by Emily Howard

Photograph by Emily Howard

Evidently, we still hold a place in our hearts for our old chain favourites. But the British people are opening up to independents too, which seems entirely understandable. There are some things that chains inherently just can’t capture: a sense of personality, quirk, charm, and uniqueness.

Wired is located at 42 Pelham Street, Nottingham. Open weekdays 8am-6pm, Saturdays 9:30am-6pm and Sundays 10:30am-5pm; http://www.wiredcafe.co.uk/

Header photograph from the source: https://mollyfinntheatredesign.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/wired-cafe-nottingham1.png



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