Why innovation is critical to your business and long term success

Why innovation is critical to your business and long term success

JP's and New Holland Brew Pub's NHJP's Coffee Stout

The coffee industry as we know it was an innovation

Who would have thought a couple of decades ago that drive-thru coffee service would become so popular and profitable that for a period of time Starbucks was thought only to be securing locations that could have one. Go back a couple of decades more. Who could have foreseen the incredible rise and popularity of the latte, espresso and $3 cup of coffee.

In every industry there are innovators: people who take something and re-invent it or create something completely new to meet a perceived need. Those people are often rewarded for having taken their risk , but other times suffer loss at the hands of an idea not accepted by the public. Yet.

Innovation is a way of thinking

I like to think of myself as an innovator, though I’ve historically called it continuous improvement. I love to innovate – to change, update and work on something new or fresh. I am not happy sitting around and my wife tells me when I get bored, I get dangerous.

I don’t hold any patents, though at one time I did own a registered trademark (painful memory). I was never great in science and I haven’t created any new technology for your Droid. But after I entered the world of business ownership the innovator in me came alive. I saw opportunity on every corner. I created one business only to create another. And another. And another. I created products and websites and spreadsheets. And everything I did was to either bring something new to my business, to the market, or improve something that existed.

Holland MI and JP’s Coffee

Our store has been in operation since 1993. Same location, same general menu. But if you came in today after a year away, you would see major changes. I’m always updating, improving, adding or moving something.

A recent innovation are the library tables I had built to replace booth and banquette seating at the back of the store. They are high tables made from 200-year-old reclaimed beech wood, give customers plenty of room to spread out, and have easily accessible outlets for laptop use. It was a risky move because our high-backed booths have always been our most desirable seating and I removed a couple of them to make way for the tables. The whole thing from start to finish (almost finished – still need artwork) took me two years. I was very nervous about a major change and thought through it over and over. But, eventually I had to pull the trigger.

Yesterday I ordered a new grinder for our espresso bar and sold the one we used for the last 2 years. It is a completely different grinder and will require retraining the staff, but I believe it will be an improvement over our current grinder and save us valuable time in the espresso-making process. This ever-present changing, updating, and adding is a big part of what keeps our business relevant, fresh and successful.

Why do new restaurants fail in old restaurant locations?

Have you ever seen a restaurant in your neighborhood go out of business, only to have a new owner take over that location and try to make it a go? Without changing anything? OK they put up a new sign, but didn’t change anything major from the old store: same old service counter, same old booths and chairs and tables, same old look and feel, just doctored up a bit and now serving Chinese food instead of Mexican.

Why do most of those businesses fail? Why won’t you even go in it once it opens? It could be great food and have a wonderful new owner, but their lack of innovation was a turn off and you were left unimpressed.

What if that same location had a new owner who completely revamped the building? Added architectural changes to the outside of the building, completely changed the inside layout with new artwork, brought in different equipment, new menu boards and an overall feeling of “this is a whole new business“? They could have even reused some or much of the old stuff as long as they painted, re-arranged, updated, freshened and generally convinced you they were serious about being new and different.

You may not realize it, but you’ve seen innovation since you were little. It’s all around us. Remember the core of a decades old ad slogan, “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” (what was wrong with dad’s car?). Innovation is needed to bring back existing customers and add new ones. Without innovation people will get tired of your business, tired of the same o’ same o’, and find someplace new and fresh and different to go…and get their coffee.

Long-term success means repeatedly reinventing yourself

You cannot rest on your laurels. If you haven’t refreshed your business in the last 5 years you risk becoming irrelevant. How long has it been since you painted, changed seating, bought a new espresso machine or added or deleted items from your menu? What about your bathrooms? Are they the same today as they were on day 1?

Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to add the latest brewing method, the newest gadget or coffee that comes from the south end of a north bound marsupial. But you must at least know what they are, and have explored whether they make sense for your business.

Innovation means your customers will respond to your business improving, staying fresh and innovating day after day, year after year. It keeps them interested, keeps you relevant and keeps the dollars coming in.

By the way, did I mention the new NHJP’s Coffee Stout I got my local brewpub to create? Only took me 3 years of pestering. And the NHJP’s Espresso Stout is being released this Friday! Come on down and I’ll buy you a mug in our combined beer/coffee mug!



  1. Mcaimtree:


    What are your thoughts about drive-thru coffee shops?  I know JP’s doesn’t have one but would you have one if you were starting JP’s up today?

    • I am conflicted. I recognize the validity of the drive thru model. I know that for some coffee shops a drive thru may be the difference between success and failure or the whole model of the store is firmly based on that part of the business. 

      On the other hand, a drive thru creates a different environment in a coffee shop. One that can come off as distracted and double minded. One that may serve one drink to a customer in the store and another to the drive thru customer. Employees with headphones trying to help you and yet seeming to talk to the air are disconcerting. 

      JP’s would serve more customers and make more money with a drive thru, but I wouldn’t add one if I could. At least I say that now because I don’t have the option.

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