One of the things that I love about our job is that there are no rules. I never went to business school and had worked for less than 3 full-time years before starting and owning my business. It is also the hardest part of the job for me. Most of the time, I feel as though I have no idea what I am doing and second guess most decisions we make. We make a lot of mistakes and hopefully learn from them. And, thankfully, our customers and staff are forgiving enough to stick with us.
When we opened Diesel, we had a frequent buyer program that rewarded loyal customers a free coffee and sandwich after ten purchases. A couple of years ago, (my timeline is horrible, so it may have been longer or more recently) we looked at the actual cost of what this meant over the course of a year and realized that we were giving away thousands of dollars annually. Upon serious consideration, my partner Tucker and I realized that we could not continue to give away as much as we were and become profitable.
In the early and mid-90's, there were a slew of local cafes in the area. 1369 Coffeehouse, The Someday, The Phoenix Coffeehouse, The Liberty Cafe, Toscanini's (all 3 locations), and The Coffee Connection (before Starbucks bought them out). Most of these cafes had some sort of loyalty program that gave something back to their regular customers. With the demise of most of these cafes, the concept of a loyalty program diminished as well. Our immediate competitors in Davis Square, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts do not have any sort of frequent buyer program. And we realized that as our competition changed, we had to adjust our business model as well. Many people still expected that the independently and locally run places should be cheaper than the bigger chains and wanted recognition for their loyalty, which they should. For surely, there is a difference between Diesel and Starbucks, right?
At the core, we felt that what we were doing with our coffee card program was rewarding each customer with a little something and also giving back to the community. But the cost of a coffee card program and a sandwich program had gotten too high. So, after many weeks of deliberating, we decided to eliminate our sandwich card program and overhaul our coffee card system. Instead of a free drink, we discounted the customer's 11th order by a $1. And we matched that $1 to a local charity of our choosing.
Each quarter, we choose a local non-profit that we want to partner with to donate the proceeds. We have received a lot of interest and have been able to reconcile our desire to give back to individual customers and the larger community that we exist in with our need to stay profitable and competitive.
Some of our past recipients of our quarterly coffee card program are Resist, Groundworks Somerville, The Somerville Homeless Coalition, and The Family Center. Each of these organizations is committed to bettering the community, whether it be by promoting social justice, helping the homeless, educating people on global warming, or promoting healthy family systems. Each of these organizations are based in Somerville and give back to the immediate (and larger) Somerville communities. We are proud to have been able to help in a small way.
In addition to drinking tasty, responsibly traded coffee, we hope that knowing that you are helping to give back to the community with every cup makes it even a bit more enjoyable. Thank you for continuing to choose us!!!
If you are interested in applying to be a recipient, please email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org: Diesel Non-Profit Application.