Sentences such as “small businesses are at the heart of every community” have a familiar sound to them. They imply a mutually exclusive relationship between the establishments and their local customers. But what happens if this trust is betrayed?
Hogwurst, a small independent café specialising in ‘gourmet hotdogs’ has unfortunately experienced this. It all began about one and a half years ago, when the Cardiff based letting agency CPS Homes decided to step up its marketing game by mounting a seasonal promotional booth on North Road. The stand blends perfectly into the company’s quirky student-targeted marketing campaign, with an old VW-van in the company’s customary turquoise colour and two cheerful young attendants eager to attract new tenants.
Yet, the marketing scheme’s playful and innocent look has not convinced everyone in its proximity; being located next to two gastronomic establishments, the stand has caused some controversy.
One of these businesses is the Blackweir Tavern, a well-known pub that is popular amongst students. Its manager Adam Roach stated that the CPS booth has in fact benefitted the tavern sending people their way. In addition, the pub does not rely on coffee sales in the first place, mostly operating at night, therefore not directly competing with the stand.
The opposite, however, is true of Hogwurst, which is located right opposite of CPS’ booth. The coffee house’s owner, Hoa Dieu, says his three-year-old small business heavily relies on its student customer base. Dieu states “We have no problem with CPS Homes wanting to reach out to the students, but there are more considerate and less selfish ways about it. We have spoken to CPS Homes and have pointed out to them how insensitive their marketing ploy is, but they are unconcerned and have continually arranged for their van to directly conflict with us.”, He further adds that “We have called upon students [to] boycott the coffee van”.
CPS has failed to reply to a request to comment. According to one source, the advertising campaign stopped last Monday. So, with the booth temporarily disappearing the controversy appears to be on hold until the booth’s next appearance.
All in all, it is understandable that students constantly living on a budget don’t think twice when being offered a free coffee. However, it is essential to remember that small independent businesses rely on their customers’ loyalty. Therefore, this issue goes right to the very heart of a community, the very community that is the basis for both CPS’ and Hogwurst’s business model. CPS’ unreflective behaviour is thereby rendered unacceptable as it violates the unspoken contract of this community. Yet, legally speaking, the letting agency’s ad campaign is complying with the governmental guidelines. Thus, it is up to the community, to students and locals, to the businesses customers, to shape the latter by choosing to stand up for their ideals or prioritise one’s financial situation.
I would argue that a university environment might be one of the most conducive environments to idealism that there are. We might live in times where practices such as common decency and the social contract are easily dismissed or discarded as ideals of the past, but they should not be. Plus, what better excuse is there to treat yourself to a cup of coffee or some comfort food than to stand up for your beliefs?