Jigsaw LLC


Brands Behaving Beautifully: Stone Creek Coffee

— Branding & Marketing —

Steve Hawthorne, Green Coffee Buyer for Stone Creek Coffee

This week, the American Marketing Association’s Milwaukee chapter brought in a great speaker (and, I should disclose, a good friend) – Steve Hawthorne, Green Coffee Buyer for Stone Creek Coffee here in Milwaukee.

Steve spoke about socially responsible marketing, and how Stone Creek Coffee was founded on principles of social responsibility and how they are living them. For example, the company has open dialogue with coffee suppliers about costs on both sides – including ensuring that farm workers are sufficiently paid – collaboratively arriving at a fair price for the beans. Also, Stone Creek helped build a school and a clinic on a coffee farm in Brazil. This brand is a beautiful example of living out the Humanize values that I wrote about here recently: Open. Trustworthy. Generative. Courageous.

The company was actually founded under the name Giri Corporation. Giri comes from a samurai code of honor called Bushido and means “social obligation.” Founder Eric Resch believed that a company has a responsibility to support the community that allows the business to be successful. *applauds*

Another interesting aspect of this brand is, that while they offer the highest quality coffees, scored on the Specialty Coffee Association of America protocol, they are also working very hard to differentiate their experience through service. I asked Steve some questions about this after the meeting, to get his insights into service marketing.

How do you go about teaching people the importance of excellent service to providing an experience that customers will come back for? Would you say that Stone Creek has a service culture, and what do you do to foster that?

We took a look at the “customer experience” and tried to define the key milestones of a visit to our stores. We’ve defined the visit in three components: a greeting, connection and farewell. The greeting is welcoming the customers, by name whenever it is known, as soon as possible upon entering the store. After they have been greeted, we want our staff to make some kind of connection beyond the transaction. This could be as simple as “How’s your day?” or “How was your wedding shower this weekend?” Something that lets the customer know we care about them as people. After the drink has been delivered, we give the customer a “farewell”, not simply “Here’s your large skim latte.” “Here’s your latte, Sue, thanks for stopping in.” is what you could expect to hear. We call this model our “barista culture.” It’s making the experience in our store personal. We foster it in other parts of our culture as well. For example we have a commitment to ourselves to respond to any customer email or phone call within 3 business hours in order to demonstrate our urgency to their needs. *more applause – I know we all wish more companies would live THAT.*

How much of great service comes down to making the right hires in the first place? Can great service be trained or is it part of a person’s DNA? What do you look for?

The first thing we did when considering service was to change our hiring process. Now, anyone interested in applying for a barista position is put through a fairly intensive application process. As part of a group interview, we are trying to get a glimpse into the person’s personality and see if they “have what it takes” to deliver stellar service. We also ask them to bring in a writing sample describing something they are passionate about. We’ve found that if they are passionate about something, we can teach them to be passionate about coffee and customers.

What do your customers say about your service? What are you doing differently? Have they noticed a difference? How much of a role do you think it plays in their loyalty to you?

The most common comment that I get about our stores is that we have great people. I hear this more than I hear about how great our coffee is or how great our environments are. I think this is a direct reflection on our service focus…by focusing on customer connections we are building brand loyalty. The Grand Avenue location is a great example – this is our smallest location, but has one of the highest customer counts of all our stores. The staff there is awesome at connecting with customers and their numbers show it.


Many thanks to Steve for the wonderful presentation at the AMA meeting – and the coffee! *standing ovation* – and for answering my questions. Service marketers can learn so much from this inspired brand behavior – opening up and connecting person to person.

If you’re in a service business, what do you do to behave in a way that builds trust and loyalty?

Posted by Jigsaw