For Tim and Brian Helfrich, brothers and co-owners of Summit Coffee, 2012 was a big year.
Summit in Davidson had always been a gathering spot for book clubs, happy hours, dates, business meetings and professors’ office hours. But could it do better?
The turning point for the business came when the brothers decided to raise the shop’s visibility to a new level. In just 12 months, the 13-year-old shop unveiled a weekend pub, a new website and a new logo. They also revamped their interior decor and launched an inaugural race series.
“When you looked around and thought, ‘What more could be done here?’ I think a lot of people would say, ‘Not much,’ ” said Brian, 27, who recently became co-owner and took charge of event promotion and social media.
“But we thought, ‘How can we grow without more square footage?’ …We’re giving people a reason to come to Summit and talk about Summit more.”
Brian and Tim, 34, were both Summit customers when they attended Davidson College. Brian was a barista. But Tim’s first interaction with owner Craig Blaney was when he was a reporter for the Lake Norman Times, interviewing Blaney.
“I had zero experience in business or retail,” Tim says. But Blaney took him under his wing. Tim became manager in 2003 and took over the business in 2005.
Across the street from the Davidson Public Library, the 1,400-square-foot, 110-year-old building has a second-floor lounge and a back porch, and is a spot where you can hear local musicians play and see local artists’ work on the walls.
Facing rising costs: Over the last couple of years, Tim saw business costs rise. Dairy products went up 60 percent over a four-month period. The cost of gas increased, which brought new fuel surcharges. The wholesale price of coffee beans nearly doubled.
Summit needed new revenue streams, ways to better connect with customers and – most of all – to do it on a shoestring budget. They got creative.
Creating buzz: Summit already sold beer and wine, but the brothers decided the shop needed a bigger piece of the town’s nightlife. So they created “The Freckled Dog,” a pub in the upstairs lounge area, open on Friday nights. “As a coffee shop, to be successful, you really want to be a gathering place,” Tim said. Since it opened in January 2012, alcohol sales are up 40 percent, Brian said.
Rethinking the image: Summit was already a community mainstay, but to make the connection more solid, it started a Twilight 5K race series. The first one ended with a party at Summit, and more than 550 people attended. On New Year’s Eve last year, the staff gathered to paint the walls, changing them from mint green to burnt orange, giving the place a cozier vibe. Something as simple as moving the table that holds cream and sugar to a more accessible area caused a positive stir.
“It represents that willingness to change,” said Becky Howden, 42, who has worked at Summit for four years.
To expand: People often ask the owners if they’ve considered expanding, opening other Summit locations. The Helfrichs have considered it, but it’s not a priority now. Their year’s worth of creative marketing and new projects generated 20 percent growth for the business as a whole.
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