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QSR Interview | By Robin Van Tan

Field of Beans

The ‘Emotional Details’

Tattersfield knew the Caribou experience couldn’t be just about the food if he wanted to increase the average unit sales. Consumers had to feel it was their Caribou.

If Caribou’s breakfast offerings perform well, menu items for lunch and dinner could be in its future.

“Customers come to Caribou for the connection the team members can have with you,” Tattersfield says. “There’s a fun and engaging aspect to it, and I think it really matters.”

Especially to Caribou’s regular customers.

“This is not a once-a-month category visit,” Tattersfield says. “Our heavy users visit us four times a week or more. They want to have a conversation.”

A key part of that conversation is Caribou’s trivia board, where store managers post a new question each day.

“It’s not about the 10-cent discount they get if they answer the question correctly,” Tattersfield says. “Customers want to be challenged. … They want to know they own the record of 10 days in a row getting it right.”

Team members also contribute to the in-store experience by making the coffee right in front of customers and initiating the kind of friendly banter that makes them feel at home.

The key, Tattersfield says, is keeping employees happy so they’ll keep customers happy and engaged.

“When team members are really behind you, you tend to have a really positive customer experience, because they believe in what we’re doing,” he says. “That’s the most important thing that we really and continually work on.”

Caribou also looks for opportunities to connect with customers and the community on deeper levels.

“We do things like have clubs come in on a Wednesday night, for example, and our Caribou becomes their place,” Tattersfield says. “When people can call it their Caribou because it feels like a home to them, those are the aspects of the experience that make you come back. … There are functional things like WiFi or comfortable chairs, but it’s the emotional details that really matter to customers.”

The Growing Rate

While Caribou hasn’t hit the “$1 million coffeehouse” milestone yet, the top third of its 413 stores have increased their yearly performance to between $750,000 and $800,000. With the promise of those stores and a mean average unit performance of $550,000 (that number goes up to about $700,000 for the locations that were opened under the new site-selection strategy), Tattersfield feels confident enough to take Caribou’s expansion plan off of its hiatus.

“We made sure we had the right development tools in place and the right people processes,” Tattersfield says. “But when those start to stick and you can see we can operate and consistently drive performance, which we have for five quarters in a row … you know you have a strong enough in-store experience to expand.”

As a result, Caribou is looking to extend its retail presence beyond the 16 states and the District of Columbia where its stores operate. Tattersfield says the Caribou brand could successfully operate nearly 2,000 stores nationwide, but that doesn’t mean he plans to hit that number any time soon.

“You lose a lot when a company starts to build beyond its capabilities,” he says.

Tattersfield’s 20-plus years of business experience have taught him that any given concept could grow a maximum of about 10 percent of its store base.

Under that logic, “We could grow at 40 stores in the near future,” he says. “But you’ve got to earn the right to do that. We’re not ready to do that today.”

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