Since 2012, Timberyard has been challenging the status quo of the coffee industry. Rather than attempting to turn over high numbers of covers, the London-based brand goes against the grain and actively encourages its customers to occupy its seats for as long as possible. Now it is taking things one step further, and introducing a Members’ Area to its latest store.
So, is this unique business model the future for coffee shops? We sat down with Timberyard’s co-founder and speaker at the 2015 European Coffee Symposium, Darren Elliott, to find out.
Darren, what inspired you to open the first Timberyard?
Whilst working for Lloyd’s of London, my business partner Ruth Turner would struggle to find suitable venues to take her clients to. There were very few coffee shops that encouraged people to have business meetings; WiFi was almost non-existent or discouraged, furniture was uncomfortable and staff were in a hurry to get you out and the next customers in. We decided to change that.
What were your first steps?
We knew that we would need a large property that could accommodate our various needs – larger than your average coffee bar at least. That is why we chose our Old Street store. Previously a hairdressers, it was always destined to be a creative space!
We also spent six months researching the local coffee scene, learning that whilst there was a great deal of fantastic, speciality coffee on offer, many shops lacked good service. Our target market is largely tech and creative media – professionals that are colourful in character but that also have high standards. As such, we aim to be down-to-earth, whilst at the same time providing a Club Class – style, business environment.
You say on your website that you, ‘encourage creative people to come together for a variety of reasons…’ What are those reasons?
Since day one, we have collaborated with numerous amazing artists. Very shortly we will be releasing three limited edition cups, each designed by a different artist. All will have the artist’s respective social media handles printed on, allowing them the exposure they deserve. We also have a really talented street-artist called Endless joining us at our Soho store launch party in November. Throughout the event, he will produce six pieces of art, all of which will be auctioned off and 60 % of the proceeds donated to Project Waterfall.
You are opening a third store in Soho on November 2. As the brand increases in size, how do you manage to maintain the community feel that you so desire?
Essentially, our business model is a hybrid of a coffee shop and a workspace. We have created an environment that is perfect for networking – we are bringing creative minds together not just in one store, but across pockets of London.
Your business model is one that many other brands have rejected. What do you think the secret to your success is?
Historically, coffee shops have been small spaces, making every seat enormously valuable. Conversely, Timberyard’s venues are purpose built – they are not cavernous , but they are roomy. They allow in as much natural light as possible. The climates are controllable. Sound volume is just so that you can have a business meeting without fear that other customers can hear every word. We also provides excellent Wi-Fi – an essential tool for the nomadic worker – numerous power sockets, and various audiovisual facilities. Most important though, is location. There must be a demand for creative space, but also customers with the ability to pay for it – people who understand that they are actually saving money by using our ‘desks’, even if they are purchasing food and drink.
How large a part does food play in encouraging your customers to stay for longer?
Food plays a huge part. Our menu is small, but brilliant in quality and offers all day, largely vegetarian options designed to fuel the brain. That said, our licence means that a working lunch can easily turn into a more leisurely affair too.
Your new store will incorporate a Members’ Area. Tell us more.
After winning seven awards last year, we became immensely busy and on occasion our loyal customers would struggle to get a seat. Some suggested that we offer a system that allows people to book meeting spaces in advance, in exchange for a small fee. For £60 a month, members will have access to a beautiful central brew bar, 104 seats in 2,000 square feet of open plan workspace, and an online community. There will even be a dedicated ‘concierge’ onsite to introduce like-minded people.
‘Members’ Area’ sounds a little exclusive however, which is misleading – we are inclusive. Timberyard is, and always will be about accessibility. It is for people who cannot afford massive office rent, but need somewhere to work and want to drink delicious coffee. Over twenty businesses have been born in various Timberyard locations – a novel was even written in our Old Street store. Innovation and creativity. That is what it is all about.
If you would like to hear more from Darren and to discuss whether Members’ Areas are indeed the future for coffee shops, book your place at the European Coffee Symposium in Copenhagen next month. Simply click here.