Two Views. You Choose: Do brands in your shop make a difference?

Thursday 22-01-2015 - 17:15

Two Views. You Choose is a new feature on NUS Connect where we invite two representatives from different SUs to argue for/against a topic concerning the student movement before letting you vote! 

This week we’re joined by Jason Snowdon (University of Leicester Students’ Union) and Alex Wyatt (Union of UEA Students) who share their two views on brand power in SU outlets.

Agree? Disagree? Have your say by voting in the poll at the bottom of the page.

‘This powerful global brand instils a confidence and loyalty in coffee drinking in a way that a no-name brand cannot’

- Jason Snowdon, Chief Commercial Officer, University of Leicester Students’ Union

There has been a Starbucks outlet at the University of Leicester Students’ Union operating under a licence agreement for almost five years. Run by students trained to deliver Starbucks brand standards, it remains one of the most successful and profitable outlets on campus, and it is rarely to be found without a long line of students, academic or support staff waiting to place orders. This powerful global brand instils a confidence and loyalty in coffee drinking in a way that a no-name brand cannot. It is also a relatively inexpensive investment option compared to the costs involved in creating a home-grown brand that requires considerable marketing and on-going development support (at an extra cost) in order to generate high levels of goodwill and confidence in the product. Even with considerable investment, the home-grown brand could still flounder and fail to deliver on the financial returns required for it to remain viable.By contrast, confidence in the Starbucks offer is high, and it continually drives footfall to the union, resulting in much higher than average coffee sales. In turn, these sales convert to significant operating profits which get ploughed back into the union and contribute to further supporting student activities and initiatives.

With many less-expensive options available for hot beverages on campus and with the very large majority of our students on fixed incomes it is, in the abstract, difficult to fully comprehend why Starbucks (and consequently, the union) does so well, particularly as the higher than average coffee price might be seen by some as suppressants to demand. Yet each day students – including international, postgrads, mature as well as the younger undergrads, flock to the union building and place their orders with the Starbucks trained barista, confident in the knowledge that they will receive a delicious, well-made and enjoyable hot beverage. After all, for a few pounds you get to luxuriate, confident in the knowledge that you are drinking a quality product in an environment that allows you to escape the tasks and responsibilities of the day.

Coffee culture has always been about buying an experience and not just a beverage. It is about taking a moment to sit, relax and unwind from the busy world that we all live in. Relaxing with a well-made cappuccino, latte or hot chocolate made the way you like it remains a luxurious treat accessible to all and, for a moment at least, a world away from the next lecture, seminar or essay that will fill the rest of the day.


‘They [brands] sell this idea of ‘the third place’ (work, home, Starbucks) and they sell it well. But hang on a minute! What if we were to learn from this approach and create our own ‘brand’?’ 
- Alex Wyatt, Director of Social Enterprise, Union of UEA Students

The real question about whether we should be inviting brands onto campus and into the Social Enterprise departments of our Student Unions is ‘what do they bring to the table?’ There are lots of benefits of course but the most attractive feature of brand involvement is consistency.

The consistency of big coffee brands for example, is that you can get a drink that is of the same quality and taste wherever you are in the world. Consumers like to know what they are getting and they want it quick. This of course, is delivered by having robust training and auditing processes from clear deliverable performance indicators (temperature, branded cup, staff layout, cleanliness, customer contact). This continues to be the main marketing strategy of the big coffee brands (with the occasional seasonal promotion thrown in) it is actually the consistency that keeps customers coming back; you’re only as good as your last cup of coffee right?

There are a number of indicators in-store that you are in a branded operation. You will always see a massive etched transfer in the window of every Starbucks. There is a certain type of sugar and stirrer station, the colours are spookily familiar. They sell this idea of ‘the third place’ (work, home, Starbucks) and they sell it well. But hang on a minute! What if we were to learn from this approach and create our own ‘brand’? Every big brand started with just one store and there was something special about the combination of environment, products and services which resonated with their customers and made it successful. They then replicated it across more stores and the brand was created.

This is the approach we had with our own coffee brand at UEA, ‘Unio’. With the continued involvement of talented students to design, develop and run the brand, we are now growing the offer to include a ‘proud to serve’ option in our bars and we are looking at expanding the brand off-campus. Our approach was the same as if we had taken on a franchise; training, brand cues and auditing. The biggest compliment we have received to date has been a letter from a student who complained that the Union had ‘sold the space in Union House to an external coffee brand without consulting with students.’ High praise indeed!

Do brands in your shop make a difference?


Features, Quality Students Unions, Trading

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