Fast Wifi, smooth POS, wireless music ”Science solved it all for G&B Coffee in L.A.
BY ANDY FREIVOGEL
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
PHOTOS BY CLIFFORD GAGLIARDO
IT is dead. Honestly, your nephew can configure a router. Nobody needs Windows anything when Google has made all manner of productivity apps available online. Fire your IT person today. Let me back up, though.
Science launched just over a year ago with just a few goals, one of which was to work with Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski, two humble United States Barista Champions and part of the initial team that made Intelligentsia Coffee’s foray into Los Angeles a bonafide disruptive presence (Kyle’s role is well known, and Charles moved from Chicago to L.A. several years into Intelli’s expansion, and became part of the amazing Intelligentsia Venice team, many of whom found their way to G&B over the years.)
The duo (who, by the way, grace the cover of the current issue of Barista Magazine) who launched G&B Coffee built their initial space at the Grand Central Market (GCM) in Downtown Los Angeles in barely a weekend, and it was the embodiment of an evolving set of values that hadn’t really taken hold in the specialty-coffee industry, including a service model that from a distance could look like chaos, but up close revealed an intimacy and honest-to-goodness customer-centric approach that is still largely absent in many coffee retailers.
We were incredibly stoked to get the call when G&B began their plans to revamp their GCM location. Kyle ran down their list of concerns: unreliable internet service; a need for expanding the number of point-of-sale terminals to accommodate the new spot’s œOrder Anywhere ethos; strong wifi coverage for both the coffeebar itself as well as the hundreds of customers who pass through each day; a wireless music system capable of quality and coverage; and a way to communicate between a sequestered basement office (if you haven’t been in the basement of the Grand Central Market, and are a fan of David Fincher’s body of work, you are really missing something) and a busy coffeebar staffed by some of the busiest, friendliest baristas in the game.
BRING IN THE SUITS LABCOATS REGULAR PEOPLE
Through our experience with designing and implementing technology solutions for other retail environments, we didn’t really have to go back to the drawing board on addressing these needs and concerns. In fact, a dirty little secret that anyone should know about consulting (presumably this is true not only for technology, but for HR, benefits, finance, production, and consulting within other disciplines) is that consultants often have the answer before you hire them. They are thinking about what to charge you when you meet with them for the first time, even though they could often write the answers to your questions on a notecard before you open your mouth, hand it to you, and walk away having provided you with everything you needed.
For example, if you are a small business without a foundational understanding of accounting or a robust computer network, then nine out of ten times, you are going to do just fine with either Xero or Quickbooks. They are the leading (i.e. already embraced by many thousands of businesses, many with less business savvy than you) cloud-based accounting services and have existing integrations with far more applications (point-of-sale and payroll services, for example) than any other service. Do you need to pay someone $250 per hour to sit in front of you and tell you that? Probably not.
G&B’s internet was unreliable. Grand Central Market is an old facility with old infrastructure. DSL-based internet service utilizes the same copper wiring that was probably installed in the building not longer after it was built in 1917. Wires get brittle, they get chewed on by critters, they get spilled on by man and nature, but they don’t typically get better over time.
We quickly agreed on the importance of reliable internet connectivity ”POS, wifi, music, and cameras all require it ”but it wasn’t yet clearcut as to whether some of the interruptions they experienced were due to failing internet connectivity or something internal to their network. By installing a cloud-managed router from Cisco’s Meraki line, we were able to isolate some of the problems, as the bandwidth utilization and monitoring functionality allowed us to see that the issues the staff experienced were related to the DSL connection. Cisco’s Meraki routers provide a failover USB port that allows for a secondary internet connection (using a 3G/4G/LTE USB dongle) to be connected to the router. By adding a secondary connection, we were able to mitigate the effects of a hiccuping DSL line.
None of this was our own innovation, however: Science was aware of a solution that had already been deployed successfully, and we shared the information with G&B. Nothing was œinvented or œdesigned, but instead two sentient people agreed to use something that seemed to fit the environment, and it works.
Through our interaction with another client, we learned of a new product available from the internet provider which could bring fiber optic cable (capable of providing greater amounts of bandwidth over longer distances) to the new G&B. Once the carrier was finished installing the new service, all it took was an employee to move a cable from one device to another, while we talked them through it on the phone. Now, the new G&B has faster, more reliable, and redundant internet service.
One of the most refreshing aspects of this implementation was G&B’s commitment to Square as their credit card processor and point-of-sale system. As a credit card processor, Square offers the simplicity and relative competitiveness of a 2.75% rate (and it is not unheard of that Square will offer a custom ”i.e. lower ”processing rate for businesses which do over a certain amount per year in credit card sales as well as an average sale above $10 or so), as well as a big differentiator: there is no monthly cost for the use of their point-of-sale app Register. Register has matured into a full-featured POS capable of many of the same functions as more traditional POS solutions, including the ability to add modifiers (such as œextra shot œsoy instead of whole milk and œtoasted ) and to send orders to a kitchen printer or an espresso bar across the room.
In addition to these important service features, a whole slough of back-end features for staff management and customer analytics makes Square worth considering for any thriving hospitality business, particularly those where it makes more sense to save the $50 to $250 per month on POS service subscription and to forget about trying to interpret the byzantine monthly statement provided by some other credit card processors.
The stability of a five station implementation of Square’s point-of-sale solution, however, depends on a solid network. The aforementioned Meraki access point and router allow Science and the team at G&B to know whether an iPad is reliably connected to the wireless network, which is a unique and hidden wireless network dedicated to the point-of-sale system. That network in turn connects the iPads to the network receipt printers, as opposed to the easier-to-install but less reliable bluetooth receipt printers sometimes used in small shops.
SMILE FOR THE CAMERA
If you stop by the G&B at Grand Central Market, you can absolutely expect to be on camera. However, the cloud-accessible video cameras that capture the action on the floor at G&B are not the only ones pointed at you ”numerous restaurants and stalls at Grand Central Market have their own surveillance as well. Cloud surveillance video is where it’s at. There are no tapes to change, and a manager who is not on the floor can access the cameras from a laptop or even phone to see if this wildly popular spot needs more team members behind the counter.
Early in our discussions with G&B, it was clear that music and quality sound were going to be an important part about reaffirming an already hopping vibe at their rejuvenated coffee bar. While there are certainly more than a few ways to provide music in a hospitality setting, as soon as one introduces the limitations of a free-standing coffeebar in the context of a larger, shared space that is nearly 100 years old, the options are reduced.
Sonos was selected for the quality of their speakers, the wireless capability (saving the cost and trouble of six speaker wire runs in an area with high-ceilings and not many ways to conceal wiring) and the integration with other services. A combination of two Play 5 speakers (which reside near the center of the G&B, providing plenty of low end to cut through the bustle) and four Play 3 speakers literally surrounds the space.
Sonos has recently introduced a œtuning feature called TruePlay which allows the user to optimize the sound for each speaker based on the surrounding surfaces and other factors. And, as of December 15th, 2015, the other shoe dropped, with Apple Music integration, bringing one of the world’s largest online music libraries to the Sonos experience. The addition of Apple Music streaming not only allows users such as G&B to move the burden of a music library from their device to the cloud, but the sheer amount of music available, as well as features such as curated playlists, allows for a lot more variety. It is a significant improvement over the curated playlists associated with other commercial streaming services, both in variety and, more importantly, in performance of the system itself.
The ample amount of seating around the new G&B, as well as the additional seating provided by Grand Central Market, attracts a good handful of œcampers, or guests who not only enjoy G&B’s coffee and food offerings, but also the chance to catch up on email, work on their resumes, or punch up a screenplay by opening their laptop or mobile device and hopping on dedicated customer wifi network. Guest wifi service is provided by Troglo Inc.’s captive portal wifi service. Not only do customers have the option to quickly and easily join G&B’s email list, but can also get the inside scoop about products promoted on the wifi landing page. No passwords are required, and customer internet usage doesn’t affect the separate wifi networks dedicated to other services such as POS and music.
PLENTY OF SLACK
One unique challenge that faced G&B’s team was communication between the staff on the busy floor and those who might be retrieving stock or placing orders from the dungeon office. While walkie talkies and other radio-like devices have been used to answer this problem at other locations, the clean lines of the new G&B (courtesy DTLA design guru Ricki Kline) didn’t need to be mucked up with more wires or headsets. While brainstorming with G&B Director of Operations Billy Hawkins, we offhandedly suggested Slack, a new communications platform that had become a favorite for Science’s team of retail consultants. Slack functions much like a private chat environment, offering the user the ability to create teams of users, channels dedicated to specific topics (or even clients,) and to share, post, and search all manner of attachments. What we hadn’t realized is that we weren’t providing anything new: G&B’s tech savvy crew had already embraced Slack internally for communication between team members. Science and G&B agreed, however, that Slack (which runs not only on the desktop but on iOS, therefore making it a good fit for the fleet of iPads running the POS and music at G&B) made for a good alternative to a set of radios.
Science found the ideal partner in G&B Coffee. The staff’s comfort with technology, and the team’s patience as settings were tweaked and new components were installed, went a long way toward overcoming the obstacles created by distance (Science is headquartered in Chicago) and the delays endemic to any construction project.
Science now monitors the network traffic at both G&B and new star of Larchmont Village, Go Get Em Tiger, and when weather or other problems affect internet connectivity, Science sometimes notifies staff before they even know the connection is down. Additionally, G&B’s willingness to experiment and try new ideas has lead to Science’s involvement in the creation of a new website and other digital marketing efforts. The same fresh perspective they’ve brought to peppermint mochas, pre-dosed espresso, and batch brewing has positioned Kyle and Charles as vanguards in the cost-effective and common sense use of technology to continually improve an already innovative customer service philosophy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andy Freivogel is founder of the retail technology-consulting firm Science (www.sciencertail.com), which he started after 20 years of work in retail coffee and technology consulting. In addition to guiding specialty and boutique retail customers through the landscape of POS systems, guest Wifi solutions, and PCI compliance, he also enjoys free jazz, black metal, skateboarding, street art, and cooking West African dishes, and pens the “Tech Support” column for Barista Magazine.. Andy and his wife live in Oak Park, Ill., with their two children, a chihuahua, a pit bull, two cats, and a frog.