Selling Hospitality

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When I was 22, I moved to Venice Beach, CA. I graduated college three months prior, and my closest friend and I decided to step into the ring with big, bad LA. Around the same time, my best friend moved to Hawaii, my wisest friend moved to Santa Cruz, my most kindred friend got married, and my most understanding friend moved to Seattle. Pretty soon after that, my closest friend (who I was living with) started traveling for work every weekend. 

No one told me just how lonely a studio apartment in the city could be. 

After a rough cycle of bitterness towards my friends, stress of starting a new business, pity towards myself, and unhealthy mental habits, I realized something needed to change. So I moved back in with my parents for two months, and started to rebuild my construction of the world. I had to learn what it was to function again. This kicked off a long process of learning to defeat stress, make new friends, and maintain old relationships (but not obsess over them). 

Ultimately, I wanted to get the old me back.

About 8 months after moving back to Los Angeles, a new friend I made started working at Blue Bottle Coffee, just down the street from my apartment. On his first week at work, I told him I would stop by to visit. 

What I saw when I arrived was a line out the door, people gathered on sidewalk sipping their cappuccinos, upbeat music on the speakers, and the kindest baristas I had ever witnessed. Before I got to the register, a barista walked around the bar, joined me in line and asked what I wanted. When it was time to ring me up, my friend was there, and he met me with my drink and gave me the coffee for free. 

Over the next year, I got my coffee from Blue Bottle about 3-4 times per week. When became a regular, I began to see the same people in line with me each day. Professionals, who chatted about their stressful projects and how they looked forward to heading to the midwest to see their families at Thanksgiving. The baristas knew every regular’s name and usual order, and engaged in conversation with each transaction.

So what is Blue Bottle selling? 

$5 coffee? No. Coffee and pastries are just the medium to deliver hospitality, and the regulars’ “good taste” is just an acceptable excuse before they admit they pay for kindness. Blue Bottle customers pay $6 for midwestern hospitality, where people know your name and ask how you’re doing. Oh, and you also get an almond latte on the side.

So what’s at the heart of what you sell?

Hospitality? Connection? Safety or community? Aspiration? Take some time to consider this, and then weave these threads into the fabric of your business. 

When I walk into Blue Bottle, the baristas say “Hey Reese! How’s your morning so far? You’ve gotta try our new pour-over, it tastes awesome today.” 

And that feels like the old me. 

Joshua Reese