I was just at my friend’s new business – Bluestone Cafe – in the heart of Sydney’s bustling CBD (central business district).

28-34 O’Connell St, Sydney
Australia 2000

During the lunch hour, lots of business professionals were having their coffees and quick eats. I decided to take my time and eavesdrop on conversations within earshot. It was not intentional; you have to believe me.

sydney bluestone cafe
Doesn't the vinegar in the olive oil remind you of America?

sydney bluestone cafe

Most of the topics surrounded United States’s debt, fluctuation in the ASX (Australian’s Securities Exchange) and the refugee situation on Christmas Island. Eventually, I got bored and tuned out, until I saw a really tall woman enter the cafe.

She was blond and wore a beige London Fog trench coat. At first, it looked like she dropped something on the floor because her eyes searched the tiles.

“Did you redo the floor?” she asked Steven (the owner).

Steven chuckled. “Well, not exactly. Since we close on the weekends, I bleached the floor on Saturday and scrubbed every square centimeter by hand on Sunday. It would be nice to get a new floor, but that’s at least $30k. This will do for now.”

“It looks nice.” She took a closer examination. “You put in a lot of work.”

“You can believe it. And you’re the first to notice it. Thank you.”

I would normally think it’s absurd to commend on the cleanliness of floors (as it should be clean by normal standards), but it was more than that…

Price, Convenience, And Something Else…

In an interview with Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), Schultz responded to Bobbie Gossage of Inc Magazine about the new wave of consumer expectations.

There’s been a real sea change in consumer behavior. And those companies that are consumer based must appeal to the consumer in a different way today than they did two or three years ago. And it’s not all based on value. Cutting prices or putting things on sale is not sustainable business strategy. The other side of it is that you can’t cut enough costs to save your way to prosperity.

I think the question is, What is your relevancy to the new life of this consumer, who is more discriminating about what they’re going to spend money on? The customer today is very well informed. In addition to price and convenience, there’s something else they are influenced by, and that’s what the company stands for: how it treats its employees and its customers. We’ve found that consumers are willing to walk another block and potentially spend a little bit more for companies whose values they truly trust.

I completely agree. Which brings me back to the clean floor issue…

For those who are unfamiliar with Sydney’s CBD, there are about seven coffee shops per block. So, why Steven? They’re the little things.

  • He scrubs the floor every weekend on top of the daily mopping.
  • He checks the tempering everyday to make sure the espresso flows evenly for a good brew.
  • He scrutinizes the coffee beans on smell and packaging dates.
  • He takes pride in creating each espresso by hand (not with a button).

I drilled Steven about the last one because it conflicts with my belief in efficiency. A machine can technically be calibrated to produce the same quality result – every time. This allows for scalability.

In the end, he won the argument. “If people wanted a machine brew, they could get one at the vending machine. If they want a custom hand-crafted espresso, then wait in line.”

And sure enough, there was always a long line.

sydney bluestone cafe

Your thoughts…

I bring this up because this is very much like our own photography industry. You cannot deny it. A lot of people are getting good at the craft and at a very fast rate. Aside from price, convenience, there has to be something else.

The answer is something along the lines of building belief…a core value as to why you’re doing what you’re doing that ultimately creates a discernible difference … as to why pick you. So, what do you stand for? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Like this? Thanks ahead for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!

All the best,

Lawrence Chan

P.S. This is something I talk about in my new book with Wiley Press. Okay, I said it. The cat’s out of the bag. 😛 Expect it to be in bookstores sometime in October (I think). It’s going to be rad. I poured a lot of my brain juices in there.

P.P.S. Hey Australian photographers – do you have a photo shoot that I could partake in? Preferably wedding / boudoir? I need some photos for a project.

Aug …-16 – Melbourne
Aug 17-20 – Brisbane (18th coffee meet – details coming soon)
Aug 21-28 – Gold Coast
Aug 29-31 – Brisbane
Sept 1-8 – Cairns
Sept 9-18 – Sydney (coffee meet – details coming soon)


P.P.P.S. I have a little espresso machine at home, but it’s nothing like the power of a commercial one. Wowzers.

Steven closed the store to show me all of the knobs and buttons and then took the training wheels off.

sydney bluestone cafe

sydney bluestone cafe

The following latte was not made by me. Mine came out to be … how can I put this … steaming brown milk. Don’t get me wrong. It was still drinkable, but it totally lacked the aesthetics.

I’m thinking I might move to Sydney and work for Steven for a few months to perfect latte art.

sydney bluestone cafe