Marketing to a community, a powerful brew

In the face of competition from the other coffee house in the same block, on the NE corner of Southern and Mclintock in Tempe,  Gold Bar Expresso seems to have an unique way to keep its customers: Building and nurturing a small, but fiercely loyal community. The coffee is incidental.

Indeed the roasts are excellent, usually served in mugs. But if you ask owners Dennis Miller and his wife Karen who run it in true mom-and-pop style, they’ll tell you the marketing recipe is simple. “If you’re going to build something with a community, it’s very hard to duplicate that. We operate the coffee shop with the same heart that we operated a church for 35 years.” It’s almost as if he had been reading from the ‘Church of the Customer’ and Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba’s Citizen Marketers.

Dennis’ transition from pastor to barista taught him something, and that is simply to be there for his community. In the first year, he decided to keep Gold Bar open on Dec. 25 and didn’t charge anything. He just didn’t want to make any money on Christmas day. He plays jazz at a nearby cigar bar, he chats with his customers as if they were friends (they are!). It’s one big social network, and some happen to be with a mug of coffee.

This is probably the reason why the community comes here not just to enjoy the legendary Granita, or the Red Eye, but to be part of this unique coffee house experience –one that  goes back several hundred years, when people used to talk to each other, and share stories, not tweets.  It’s probably why someone once left a $100 tip in the tip jar!

It’s also why in a recent survey of 104 customers, 80 had been visiting for years. Only four were there for the first time, and 12 had been coming for months. On Friday and Saturday nights. the coffee house is turned into a jazz bar, where Dennis plays.

If Gold Bar is one of Tempe’s best kept secrets, it’s probably a good thing because word of mouth fills in for those spots taken up by expensive marketing. I once overheard a customer ask the owners why she had not seen any advertising. Dennis’ answer (half in jest) was “because we are that good!” There are very few businesses that can say that today. Trouble is, they are marketing to our wallets, not our hearts.

So if you want to get a quick lesson in community marketing, stop by Gold Bar. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. As it says on the web site, the coffee house is “closed 49 hours a week, open 365 Days a Year.”

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