Kyoto-based coffee chain % Arabica opened its first store in London this month – and it plans 70 more within the next year.
Located right at an iconic landmark and situated in between West End theatres, the hustle and bustle draws tourists from all over the world, along with London locals queuing for the brand’s signature roasts.
Brewing in the city of coffee, % Arabica is not afraid of a little competition amongst the 24,000 cafes in London. While the specialty-coffee scene has been well-developed for many years, % Arabica is one of the few (if not the only one) to be debuting as an independent coffee artisan at a prime central location like Covent Garden.
The brand’s first-ever store was established six years ago by founder Kenneth Shoji in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, until an opportunity in the market emerged to open a global flagship in Higashiyama of Kyoto one year later. From there, the brand met success and recognition for its specialty coffee along with its minimalistic interior design that sits strikingly amidst the city surroundings.
The cafes’ white space, mirrors and wooden accents paints the brand’s identity alongside its distinctively bold ‘%’ logo (a representation of coffee cherry branch), and showcases a minimal but purposeful design. Unique to London stores is the addition of the original Smeed Dean Yellow brickwork that can be seen all around London landmarks as well.
Consistency is the key
With more than 40 stores currently across 12 countries in Asia, the Middle East and, more recently, Europe, the brand takes pride in achieving a consistent flavour despite operating on a franchise model. One of the keys is that the parent company, Asiamix Holdings, runs on a model of vertical integration: it manufactures the Slayer espresso machine which is seen in every % Arabica store worldwide.
Talking exclusively with Inside Retail Asia, % Arabica brand manager Luke Richardson shared the company’s strategy that has helped achieve the success the company reaps today.
“We’re just doing our thing and staying true to ourselves… we stay focused to bring an amazing customer experience wherever we go.”
The customer demographic confirms this: tourists from cities which already have a % Arabica store seek the brand out while travelling, eager to have a taste of the brand they know from home, knowing the flavour will be exactly the same.
To maintain the same quality standards across multiple markets and cultures, the company’s solutions lie in working with carefully selected trusted and reliable partners. Shoji and % Arabica’s own barista from Kyoto flies in to each store opening for a two-week training to teach the ‘Kyoto standard’. Baristas are encouraged to work with Teinei, a concept of being mindful of your surroundings, and not wasting a single movement or moment in their workflow.
Investing in employees
“Investing in our people and baristas make a huge point of difference,” says Richardson. A handful of baristas from each market are selected to participate in % Arabica’s overseas work conference and training through the brand’s #Seetheworldthroughcoffee programme, which follows the notion of ‘Kenbun’ (loosely translated ‘to see and to hear’ in Japanese).
The programme was created by Shoji – a true globetrotter himself – to offer young baristas the chance to see the world, set their own personal goals thereafter and even challenge the world with their own ideas. The latest trip took place in Kyoto, back to the roots of % Arabica itself. “Kenneth loves to travel,” shares Richardson. “His vision is to bring something to the world as a traveller and to act globally as a brand.”
Doubling up in store expansion
Currently, % Arabica has 40 franchised stores and plans to open 70 more within the next year. Twenty of those will open within the last quarter of this year. In the span of two weeks, % Arabica has opened its second location in London at Broadway Market, which captures both tourists and locals.
“Broadway Market will represent what % Arabica wants to achieve in UK – which is to bring the brand to true Londoners and the experience”.