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'Liking' Your Neighborhood Cafe on Facebook is Not Enough, Shop Owner Says

 Gregg Wilson, owner of Hardboiled Coffee Co., plans to reduce the hours of his North Beverly coffee shop after Easter. The business will focus more on wholesale sales as the retail concept has fallen flat.
Hardboiled Coffee Co.
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BEVERLY — Gregg Wilson would have his best sales day ever if everyone who "likes" his Hardboiled Coffee Co. on Facebook actually visited the coffee shop in North Beverly.

Instead, Wilson is planning to cut the hours of his humble coffee house with a crime noir theme at 9135 S. Western Ave.

"I just don't know that social media is really good word of mouth anymore," said Wilson, who opened his coffee shop in February 2013.

Wilson has already begun to shift the focus of his business more to wholesale coffee sales. His specialty roasted beans are now sold at several neighborhood spots including at Ellie's Cafe, Horse Thief Hollow and County Fair Foods.

Howard Ludwig says Wilson hopes people will stop in more:

He plans to further pursue the wholesale side of the business going forward and will begin closing at 1 p.m. starting Monday to reach out to potential customers and make afternoon deliveries.

He also recently bought a roasting machine capable of processing 20 pounds of beans in a single batch. He believes this will allow him to handle the added volume that he believes will come with the change in direction.

Of course, none of that was part of Wilson's original plan.

The slender barista from Beverly opened his coffee shop with the intent of serving friends and neighbors his specialty beverages.

Hardboiled Coffee Co. has 669 "likes" from Facebook users — mostly neighborhood residents. Wilson thought having so many local fans on social media could lead to a profitable business, but that hasn't been the case.

In addition to his Facebook marketing, Wilson donated vats of his signature coffee and hot chocolate to community events, advertised in church bulletins and hopped onto Twitter, where his company has 210 followers.

In many ways, it worked. Hardboiled Coffee has never been more popular in the realm of social media. But that hasn't translated to sales, Wilson said.

"Everybody loves this place. It has a huge, loyal following," Wilson said. "But I don't think I have 69 regular customers."

Wilson's frustration is common among many small business owners, said Caroline Connors, executive director of the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association.

"Go ahead and 'like' that business on Facebook but be sure to show your face in there, too," said Connors, who represents the business owners primarily along Western Avenue.

Connors added that some neighborhood residents get the false impression that they are supporting a local business by clicking the "like" button on Facebook or following the store on Twitter.

Indeed, there's some value to helping spread awareness, but the best way to support these independent shops is by actually visiting the store and buying something, Connors said.

"It's good to be talking about [a neighborhood business], but it's even better to take the steps to keep these places actually going," she said.

Wilson believes he's done all he can to make his business a retail success. He estimates his investment in Hardboiled Coffee Co. at $100,000. And to keep costs down, he's the only employee, which means he hasn't had a day off in years.

"Starting a business is really sticking your neck out there," he said.

Adding to Wilson's frustration are well-meaning but often vexing comments from his Facebook fans.

Many will suggest unrealistic ways to improve his business, like investing thousands in a new, larger sign. Others recommend strategies he's already already tried, has been doing for years or unsuccessfully attempted.

For example, one commenter suggested adding a sidewalk cafe. Wilson said he considered the idea a while back but learned it would cost him $600 for the city permit.

And what really has Wilson pulling his hair out is that these suggestions tend to come from folks who rarely — if ever — visit his coffee shop.

"The constant barrage of things that I need to be doing is just driving me crazy," said Wilson, adding that he's heard similar gripes from other area business owners.

Wilson doesn't blame social media for all his woes. He admits that his location in North Beverly isn't as accessible as he'd like. There's also the perception that parking is a problem — though he said street spots are usually available in front.

Had his retail plan worked out, Wilson would have liked to have several employees. He'd like to keep the shop open into the evenings, too — maybe even host some open-mic events.

But after two years, he doubts nighttime sales would warrant such events. And being the only employee, he dreads waking up before dawn to open the coffee shop after an evening of amateur poetry and espresso.

"It makes me sad that there are so many ideas and so many more things I wanted to do," Wilson said.

That's not to say Wilson regrets opening the shop. He said Hardboiled Coffee Co. is something he always wanted to pursue. He remains proud of his specialty roasted beans imported from a family-owned farm in Honduras.

He did offer one bit of advice to all his Facebook and Twitter followers as he prepares to transition his business from retail to wholesale.

"If you really want to help a small business, go and visit them once in a while," Wilson said.

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