Boosting local shops with the ease of mobile ordering
So many meaningful moments happen in coffee shops, and there’s something extra special about helping the entrepreneurs who create those spaces thrive.Nick Martin, cofounder, Joe Coffee App
Remember those dark days early in the pandemic when all our favorite restaurants and shops were open only for pick-up, and our communities rallied to support them by ordering more take-out food than ever before? I recall driving through a deserted downtown Spokane one dismal day, parking on Riverside Ave., and hitting the button on my phone to alert Indaba staff that I was patiently waiting at the curb. A friendly barista delivered my bag of beans and a latte (okay, and one those delicious pop tarts) to my car, and I returned to my home office feeling grateful there was a way to help keep people employed.
Ordering from my phone was a novelty back then. In short time, the logo of the joe coffee app became a familiar site on countertops and doors of a growing number of local shops. Even once pandemic restrictions lifted, our love affair with convenience made the mobile order a more regular part of life as we returned to work.
I was pleased to learn that the entrepreneurs behind the joe app are Washingtonians who want to stick it to the corporate giants like Starbucks. Brothers Nick and Brenden Martin – former baristas from Tri-Cities – founded the company in 2014 in Seattle, where they set about realizing their mission. “We built joe with the belief that people will choose to support local coffee over corporate giants every time – as long as it’s just as convenient,” the company website attests.
I visited with Nick to learn more.
KV: What provided the inspiration for building the joe coffee business?
NM: We grew up in a home where a family-owned business put food on the table until we were in high school when a bigger company came into town and ultimately put us out of business. From that moment on, my brother and I had a burning desire to build something that could give small businesses a way to compete against corporate giants. After years as baristas at a local coffee shop, we realized just how special that category is, and, as a largely convenience-driven purchase (80% of all orders at coffee shops are “to-go”), we saw technology as a way to bring independents together and make it even more convenient, no matter where a person is.
KV: What convinced you this would work?
NM: By making it easy and convenient to support locally owned small businesses, people don’t have to settle for corporate. In fact, 70% of people who order ahead daily at Starbucks say they’ll switch to support local coffee once they hear about joe; we just need enough shops on the network to provide exceptional experiences in convenient locations.
Joe grew from 200 partner shops in 2019 to more than 1,000 in 2020. Now there are 1,500.
KV: Besides COVID, what has fostered business growth?
NM: When the pandemic first hit, we really stepped up to make sure we could provide small shops a lifeline that offered a safe way to serve customers. That is what drove development outside of Seattle. In markets like Spokane, we owe our growth to amazing partners like Bobby Enslow of Indaba who referred us to other coffee shop owners. When we come together, it makes independent coffee more convenient and allows us to invest more in technology to convert corporate coffee customers into independent coffee lovers.
KV: What’s the best compliment a partner company has given joe coffee?
NM: Most of our partners got into the business to cultivate community, share their passion, and create great experiences for their customers and baristas. When we hear how well joe is working for them and enabling them to expand or just have a better quality of life as a business owner, that’s the greatest compliment we could ask for. I’m immensely proud that so many of our partners who switch from white label apps or generic web ordering solutions see a 300% growth in their digital orders. We do a lot to make that happen, including investing our own dollars into deals and discounts to bring their customers back more often, automate their loyalty marketing, and bring them new customers.
KV: What’s most rewarding for you personally?
NM: To own a coffee shop is to create space where people feel a sense of belonging. So many meaningful moments happen in coffee shops, and there’s something extra special about helping the entrepreneurs who create those spaces thrive.
KV: What do you envision next for joe?
NM: Our mission is to give local coffee an advantage over corporate giants. Starbucks is closing down almost 1,000 traditional shops in favor of mobile-only and drive-thru to appeal to hyper-convenience. We are shifting gears from catching up to the corporate giants to getting ahead in 2022, and are on a path to make local coffee more convenient than corporate coffee anywhere in the U.S. by 2025.
KV: Your standard go-to espresso order for a Monday morning?
NM: Americano with a splash of cream. And then … another. The average American coffee drinker (65% of us) consumes about three cups of coffee a day on average, so I have no shame in getting 2-3 drinks in me before noon.
KV: How about something special for our readers?
NM: Absolutely! Use the code 3OFF for $3 off any drink.
How to Use
- Download “Joe Coffee Order Ahead” from the app store.
- Create an account and turn on your location.
- Add funds to your account so paying is fast with each order.
- Choose any shop that shows up in your map.
- Place your order, choose a time for pick-up, and drive to your shop of choice.
- Once inside, look for the joe coffee pick-up sign on the counter.
- Wave and holler “Thanks!” to the barista who’s trying to keep up with customers in line.
- Enjoy collecting “beans” to earn free drinks.
Dining in instead?
By all means, pay for your order with the store’s usual point-of-sale system so they receive the full amount for your purchase. Naturally, ordering through joe means the store shares a bit of profit with the app.
Chat with me on Instagram – @wordsncoffee – and send me questions or ideas for a future story.