Brick-and-Mortar Is BACK

Janice Townsend is the co-founder (along with her husband Matt) of Roots Coffeehouse, a vibrant yet homely hangout spot in North Richland Hills, Texas (a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth area). In the almost ten years since its initial opening, Roots has grown into a space fostered around community, where latte-consuming students frequent the mornings and local friends gather for happy hour craft beers in the evenings.

Like many companies nowadays, Janice has built Roots into an active brand on social media, especially on Instagram.

Janice: “We encourage participation from our community. We'll do photo contests where we have customers come in, take a picture, tag us, and then we give out a gift card for the picture that wins. That gets a lot of user-generated content and people to engage with the store, and there's a no bigger advocate than for someone to say, ‘hey, this is my favorite local shop, here's a photo of it.’”

While it’s important to cultivate an active social media persona, this isn’t what differentiates Roots from other blossoming businesses. After all, it’s one thing to keep an active Instagram following; it’s another to create a physical space built around the usage of Instagram.

Janice: “When we designed our first space, it was before everyone had a camera on their cell phone before people were posting things constantly. Now, you see a lot of spaces that are designed around being Instagrammable, which is very smart. So, we've been trying over the last couple of years to convert our space to be a little more photo-friendly, from replacing the tables to make it so you have a nice wood background for your latte photo, to putting our logo in more places. So, the new space will definitely be more designed around that as well, with a feature wall where people will see a picture and be like, ‘oh, I know where that is. That's at Roots, I've seen that before.’ We’re really trying to create some very easily identifiable spaces where people can capture their moments.”

Imagine crafting your business around its image on Instagram… Not only by creating an aesthetically pleasing space, but also by creating Instagram worthy products.

Janice: “We started with just coffee, pastries, and a couple of sandwiches. So, we've always had those things, but some of the other things we've added are more dietary friendly. Gluten-free options, vegan options, keto options; these niche things that really have followings, especially on social media where they're very hashtaggable.”

In this Instagram Age, shops like Roots Coffeehouse are now working backward to obtain customers. Where a store used to first establish itself then create an online presence, part of the culture and atmosphere of the store is now being crafted through social media itself. It’s a smart tactic because those who don’t adapt to this modern age are quickly falling behind. Many attribute this as the cause of death of brick and mortar stores, but Janice has a slightly different take:

Janice: “I think brick and mortars will continue to thrive, especially in the food and beverage context, because people will always want to go out of their way for an experience. So, if you can provide an experience, that's something you can't get on Amazon or shopping online.”

In fact, as a March 19th, 2018 article from Forbes Magazine aptly points out, “physical retail is clearly not dead. Far from it. But, to be sure, boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely dead, dying or moving perilously close to the edge of the precipice.” The modern age has separated the innovators from the luddites, and stores that can provide customers with the experiences they crave are actually growing - despite all expectations otherwise! As Janice puts it,

Janice: “We're going to be constantly adjusting and changing. That's one thing I've learned: you can't stay stagnant. You always have to change, trying to keep it fresh for your customers so they always have something new to try.”

The Takeaways:

Are there any ways you can make your business more instagrammable? Do you have enough of a presence on social media to justify such a switch? Is the free promotion on social media worth the costs of updating your business?

What if you don’t sell food - can you still become more photogenic for Instagram?

To learn more about Roots Coffee and a myriad of other really bitchin’ stuff, check out our Brand Junkies podcast - available on Stitcher and SoundCloud.

David Valentine