Since then, I’ve done well working for this company, which was named one of the top 100 employers in 2015 by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, an annual competition. I’ve held different roles there, although I left the finance department four years ago to take a position in category management, which allows me to interact with people. It offered me a mix of what I like: numbers and people.
By 2012, I was toying with the idea of starting a business. An afternoon at a franchise show offered just what I was looking for and it came in the form of a bit of nostalgia. Seeing the Coffee News booth took me back to my days at university and breaks between classes spent enjoying the local edition. I didn’t know Coffee News was a franchise, so I stopped to learn more. I was intrigued by the story of how the franchise came to be.
In 1988, Jean Daum founded Coffee News in Winnipeg after noticing a lack of fun and uplifting stories in most publications. Her idea to produce a newspaper people could enjoy over a coffee break or lunchtime caught on and soon, cafés and restaurants in other towns wanted to carry it. Her idea to franchise the business came when advertisers voiced concerns their ads weren’t being seen by local customers. By 1993, Jean began offering franchises. The proposition was simple enough—she provided the content and franchisees sold the ads. Readers could still enjoy a joke or two over coffee and advertisers could reach their target consumer base.
A few weeks later, a casual conversation on the drive home from a ski trip with my friend Laurene Mahe put us on the track to buying a Coffee News franchise. She, too, had been thinking about making a career change, which spurred me to tell her about Coffee News. Scheduling a call with Jean’s daughter Candice, now vice-president of Coffee News Canada after her mother’s passing, and a review of the financial side of things helped make up our minds to become publishers of Coffee News’s Toronto franchise. It also helped that I had enjoyed Coffee News myself and knew first-hand it has a loyal readership, a plus when pitching space to advertisers.
Since Laurene and I both live in Toronto, we were pretty excited to be offered the chance to buy this particular franchise. However, we understood there would be challenges, given the size of the territory and the diversity of the neighbourhoods and cultures within it. Even though Coffee News had been around for 26 years, it had never been available in Toronto and that was our biggest concern.
That said, we recognized the potential of this market for creating multiple editions, given that every neighbourhood is like its own little town. At the moment, we publish four issues per week: the Annex/Kensington Market; Financial/Distillery District/Harbourfront; St. Lawrence Market; and Yonge/Church, which a team of four delivers every week. And the potential to grow with more editions is certainly there when you consider the Winnipeg franchisee publishes nine editions each week and Edmonton has 10.
Of course, the print business does have its challenges, although it may be less apparent in smaller towns where there are fewer newspapers and people have more free time to unwind in a café. In the big city, we tend to rush everywhere, even in making a quick stop at the local coffee house on the way to work or school. Weeklies, dailies and other media outlets are alternatives for getting the news and for businesses to advertise. It’s a challenge to be heard or read over all that clutter, but what’s a business without challenge.
What does Coffee News offer that other forms of media and advertising don’t? The layout itself, for starters. Jean was keenly aware of how design influences the way people read and she put a lot of thought into designing the paper’s layout, including incorporating 17 subliminal techniques. For instance, the front of the edition is meant for left-brain dominant readers, which means they are of the logical or analytical sort. The back is for those who are dominant on the right side, meaning they are creative, which is why the horoscopes and jokes are placed there. The layout helps ensure all the ads are going to be seen, whether they are at the front or back of the paper.
In addition, the borders around the ads are not closed, which makes them more inviting for the reader on a subconscious level. Since editorial content is laid out down the middle of the page, the reader’s eyes wander to the sides and that’s when ads are seen. And while most newspapers and magazines print on white paper, Coffee News prefers tan, which conveys warmth and perhaps a hint of nostalgia. The fact Coffee News is usually read over, well, coffee or a meal adds to the experience, as the reader is relaxed by the content and in a receptive mood. He or she also doesn’t feel the ads are intrusive. The exclusivity of advertising is another plus, as only one advertiser per category is permitted into an issue.
So what effect does digital advertising have on publications like Coffee News? We have to admit print media can be a tough sell for some advertisers, as they feel digital forms of advertising can be more effective. The way we see it, one is not better than the other because they all have their advantages. What it comes down to is the capacity of a salesperson to explain the pros and cons of different kinds of media advertising possibilities to an advertiser. We’ve seen that people still prefer print, so the question for an advertiser comes down to deciding on how to allocate those advertising dollars. For instance, you can spend thousands per week for an ad in a city-wide magazine, or you can put that money toward creating exposure in your local area.
What we’ve learned in the two years since buying our franchise is that we had to move away from thinking about Coffee News as a weekly operation and instead, look at the overall strategy of growing it. Of course, we have our deadlines, which require collecting ads, setting up the layout, printing the papers and delivering the copies to our points of distribution. However, we have come to realize that while we may be capable of completing all the tasks required to publish the paper, sometimes our time is better spent doing things like making connections in the community or meeting with clients to solidify business relationships. At some point, it just makes good business sense to outsource things like layout to a graphic designer.
What don’t I like about Coffee News? Well, I would have to say it’s too short. It takes about 10 minutes to read and I feel like I want more. The good news is that by the time I’m done, I’m in a much better mood and that’s just what Jean had in mind 26 years ago when she founded Coffee News.