I love coffee.
Six years ago I used to drink three cups of instant coffee in a working day. It was all I knew, and it seemed to be the perfect companion to an 11-hour work day. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Then there was the fateful day. Vida E opened near our offices and I order a single shot, flat white to go. Heaven. It was unlike any coffee I had tasted before. And so started a daily ritual of passing by Vida on the way to work to collect my cup of wake up.
As Vida expanded, it was plain to see that they had a very deliberate store placement strategy. They found Seattle coffee shops, and other competitors, and opened up right next to them. They beat Seattle and other competitors with an in-store experience unlike anything coffee drinkers had experienced before. Their energetic baristas, who would refer to all women as "my lady" and all men as "senoir", as well as their tasty brew won the day. In so doing, I believe they kickstarted a coffee culture in South Africa that was worthy of the success story they became known for.
Since then, I've followed the smell of freshly made coffee to Monmouth in Borough Market, London, Raglan Roast in New Zealand, Sant' Eustachio in Rome, and more. In Cape Town i've enjoyed Origin, Tribe, Rosetta, Deluxe and others. Woolworths cafe makes a pretty mean cup too. I love trying coffee from different shops.
And now, i've fallen out of love with my first love. Vida, it's not me - it's you.
Your energetic baristas remain. The vibe of your stores is still as great as it was when they first opened. But the quality of your coffee is seriously lacking. I'm not the only customer who notices. And your original competitors, Seattle, know it too.
I went to get my morning cup from Seattle in Cavendish square yesterday. In contrast to when Vida first opened next to this Seattle, the queue at Seattle now runs out the door. This is not a once-off occurrence. This has been the same scene I have seen while coming down the escalators at Cavendish square for the past 4 months.
Yesterday, I decided to snap a photo of the queue at Seattle. Exhibit A:
And 20 meters away, while not empty, the queue at Vida was just one person deep. Again, I snapped a photo of an all too familiar scene. Exhibit B:
How has Vida lost its place to Seattle - the same competitor it crushed so many years ago?
I'm no coffee analyst, but as a customer I believe the answer is very simple.
Vida built a brand off the back of quality coffee and an extraordinary in-store customer experience. At some point, in their recent history, they decided to cut quality. This immediately turns the early adopters away, and then they focus on the early and late majorities, as described by the innovation adoption lifecycle, illustrated below:
And while the early and late majorities may not care about quality as much as the early adopters did, the evidence of 1-person deep queues at their store in Cavendish Square, compared with Seattle's overflowing queue, would tell a different story: the early and late majorities care very much about quality coffee.
Dear Vida, please re-think the quality of your product. You've done so much for coffee culture in South Africa. Please don't peddle mediocre brew. Mediocre quality never wins in the long term.
Dear Seattle, please keep your quality high. My Saturday morning's depend on it. I hope you have other competitors who try to win on quality. This way the customer will keep on winning. And you'll have a long and prosperous business.