Melissa Brown, president of Well-Bean Coffee in Wake Forest, NC came late to micro markets. Her passion was coffee, especially how it could help those in Nicaragua and other coffee growing companies. Micro markets are a different business with a different customer. However, when she finally took the leap, she saw the potential and has been growing fast, ensuring success partly by matching micro market customer contributions to their accounts up to $10. It’s how Brown makes it a worthwhile to the customer, and ultimate to her greater coffee business.
Micro markets are an extension of coffee service roots
Well-Bean Coffee started in 2013, after Brown had made several trips to Nicaragua because of her parents’ non-profit and fell in love with the place and the people. She wanted to support them stateside, and decided on the coffee business after touring a Nicaragua coffee farm.
“We came back with 50 bags of coffee and sold them to friends,” Brown said. That was the beginning. Well-Bean Coffee currently roasts its own coffee and provides office coffee service (OCS) to the surrounding “Triangle” which includes Raleigh and Durham, NC. It wasn’t until 2018 that Brown added micro markets to her suite of services. In fact, it was a business segment she was trying to avoid.
“It’s a different business,” said Brown about micro markets. “Rather than focusing on what appeals to the employer and what they will pay for, you focus on the employee -- what they want and will pay for.”
It became a difficult segment to avoid when a few of Well-Bean Coffee locations asked for micro markets. Brown even admits she lost a few accounts by not providing micro market service. It was a concern on Brown’s mind when she attended a distributor show in early spring.
Micro market operators piqued her interest
“They [other attendees at the event] told me I was missing the boat on micro markets,” said Brown. After conversations with successful micro market operators and a consultant, she was intrigued. With the NAMA show mere weeks away, she decided it was a great place to investigate micro markets. It was there that she talked to 365 Retail Markets and was impressed with their support, service and robust offerings. “I interviewed several micro market suppliers,” said Brown, “365 really seemed to blow away the competition.”
Brown installed her company’s first micro market in the summer of 2018. She originally considered it a way to get large OCS businesses and retain them, but the concept produced a good return.
“It’s showed me how profitable it can be,” said Brown.
Since that first market, Brown has been adding them quickly. In November, Well-Bean Coffee will be servicing eight markets.
Accounts and mobile payments are the future
Accepting payments was one of Brown’s initial concerns, because micro markets need to for employees to pay, rather than billing an employer. Each transaction of low-ticket items resulted in merchandiser fees twice the price Brown is paying for OCS transactions. When a customer uses a micro market account; however, the transaction fee is much less. Plus, employees appreciate the innovation of the micro markets accounts, which includes using their smartphone to make purchases.
“Accounts are a great feature,” Brown said. “Customers can even scan items with their phone, not just pay with it at the kiosk.” The challenge is getting employees to set up their accounts. Consumers have different levels of comfort with technology and set up is not always easy. Therefore, the company does a full demonstration during the grand opening of each micro market.
Well-Bean Coffee sends out an email invitation prior to the event, offering to match up to $10 deposited that day. The incentive draws consumers to sign up and start using the app.
“I think that’s the future of vending.” Brown said. “We aren’t going to have to pay for kiosks, or hardware eventually, but use nanomarkets and beacon micro markets.”
The micro market account, or app Brown refers to, assists Well-Bean Coffee to develop more meaningful promotions. “Now you have access to that person,” Brown said. “You have their email and can see their buying habits, which ultimately lets you market to them in a more appropriate way.” For example, loyalty programs can be applied for items they buy regularly to motivate them to continue using the micro market.
There is no doubt that $10 a person is an investment, but Brown sees the value if it means more people use market accounts. “It tells us what people are purchasing in different demographics,” she said. This helps her team perfect micro market planograms for different types of locations as they grow that segment of their business. Brown thinks it's a worthwhile trade off to encourage consumer loyalty, save on transaction fees, and build better services.
“I’m pretty excited about markets,” Brown said. “It’s been quite the undertaking, but I really think it’s going to improve our company in the long run.” Her employee count has reached 17, with more positions to fill to keep up with the booming business.
Brown is grateful to 365 for educating her and working with her as she began installing micro markets. Between the 365 team and the consultants she has on retainer, she is confident that in coming year, she will be able to bring on 5 to 7 large OCS accounts that want micro markets and any number of nanomarket or beacon markets.