Written by Brooke Madden
After two years of lockdowns, here’s how one company has evolved to make retail relevant again.
It’s no surprise that in person shopping has seen a significant shift in its trajectory over the last couple of years. From constant lockdowns, to complicated capacity limits, and a general societal nervousness surrounding the idea of leaving the home, small businesses have been working tirelessly to adapt. Unlike bigger box stores who saw a boom in business over the pandemic, mom and pop shops forced to close and re-open so many times that non-commercial retailers as a whole are scarcer. But one company didn’t accept what seemed like the impending doom of the retail business model.
ECS Coffee Inc was founded in 1997. Over the last 25 years, this family-run business has evolved from office coffee and vending services to the retail space it exists in today. Offering Canadas largest selection of coffee, espresso and coffee equipment for every budget, a curated selection of lifestyle kitchen products, and even sustainably roasting beans in-house, ECS Coffee’s two locations in Ancaster and Burlington have evolved to become leaders in the industry across North America. Thanks, in part, to ECS Coffee’s Founder and CEO Neil Madden, and his ability to adapt and evolve his business to the ever-changing world around him.
And as far as Madden is concerned, his retail stores aren’t going anywhere.
Of course, like everywhere these days, ECS Coffee offers online shopping to its customers as well. But there’s something charming, sacred, and even ritualistic about shopping for your favourite brews in person. I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about how Neil and the ECS team have preserved the old-school art of in-person shopping, and created a customer experience that will keep their guests coming back for more.
ECS Coffee recognizes that where specialty items are concerned, in store is always best. Curating product selection is a delicate balance that small businesses can their clientele all benefit from. “Unlike the box stores and departments stores where things are just on a shelf..we have a curated selection of brands that work together. The Breville customer is the Yeti customer who is also the Riedel customer. By curating brands that have some depth to them we can be a great destination of discovery,” explains Madden. And when the products are specialized, the staff knowledge is too! Keeping high-quality products on shelves, an in-store shopping experience at ECS offers a place where customers can be educated, experiment with over 50 working models , and ultimately expand their knowledge on what they’re buying. This ensures everyone who walks in to ECS walks out with the product that best suits their wants and needs.
And there’s plenty to try.
ECS invests in key brand relationships, allowing its inventory to benefit immensely. “We can stock more in our categories than the big box and online stores,” Neil notes. ECS has increased their inventory by almost 100% in the last two years - not something you’d expect to hear of during a global pandemic. Today, ECS Coffee carries over $2 million in stock on any given day. With such an extensive inventory, one might wonder how ECS keeps up with the the big box stores that weren’t forced to close again and again over the last two years. Customer loyalty of course is key, and there’s huge incentive for coffee lovers who choose this family business over the alternatives. Primarily, better pricing. “To encourage customers to buy with us, and not head off to find the best price online (which is usually us anyway) we offer pretty nice in store discounts on our espresso and coffee equipment. You can save hundreds of dollars by simply coming to see us,” shares Neil. With a reward points system in place ECS is the smartest choice for customers seeking a deal while also supporting local.
Supporting small businesses is important now more than ever. As retail workers are finally returning to what feels like some semblance of normalcy, we can help everyone out by choosing to support local. The staff at ECS are a team of dedicated, educated individuals, who look forward to welcoming the community back at full capacity. “As a dedicated specialty store we have added a service department. That means we are the one stop shop and are around for the entire lifecycle of your purchase,” Neil says. Through learning the product, to maintaining your purchase, the team at ECS is there for you in store always. And that’s something you can’t buy off of Amazon.
Finally, when you visit ECS Coffee in person, you’re able to see first-hand how ECS sustainably roasts their own coffee. I.XXI (referencing a family favourite movie, the iconic Back to the Future trilogy) is roasted in house. Due to supply chain issues during the pandemic, ECS adapted and created their own brand of sustainably roasted coffee. “This enables us to educate our customer on the right coffee for their brewer and to eliminate many of the service issues our customers have,” Neil explains. Plus, who doesn’t need a hit of 88PMH in the morning?
Retail is back. And while things may still look a little different for a while, you can always count on a fresh cup of coffee from ECS to remind you of life’s simple pleasures. Whether you’re brewing from your PJs, or enjoying a sample in store, ECS is always grateful you’re supporting your local retailers.