In Praise of the Roads Less Taken
There is a tiny coffee shop in the bowels of Grand Central Station here in New York. The landmark building is something of a mid-town crossroads, of course. I’m often asked to meet clients near there on their way in or out of the city from points north. The locale boasts many places to meet, of course, including the de rigueur Starbucks. Yet, I specify this wee spot, friendly, albeit neither particularly comfortable nor especially convenient.
It’s fair to ask why? Many of my colleagues certainly do.
I find that in these off-the-beaten track commercial enterprises we sometimes spot some strange value being offered, something that keeps them in business despite their clear violation of the ‘location, location, location’ mantra. When we figure out the puzzling benefit delivered, we identify a key unmet need in the marketplace. It’s not just in the byzantine underbelly of a mammoth train station we can see such meaning. It’s by bothering to take the road less traveled, business can find the next big idea. Personally, I love searching out the path that diverges and noticing how ‘way leads on to way,’ e.g. how big ideas come from glimpses of needs unmet.
So, what’s going on at my tiny coffee shop? It took three separate sessions, sitting on one of the four stools offered, but I think I now know it. The shop has, hidden behind the counter but still obvious if you stare, dozens of plastic cups with lids, already filled and ready to go with…what? Not coffee ready to be iced. Not tea, either.
They have ‘go cups’ at the ready with white and red wine. The peak sales period beginning at 4 p.m. as commuters head home in trains recently denuded of their bar cars. This speaks volumes, of course. Why commuters need ‘go cups,’ since they are heading home to their safe havens in Westchester or Connecticut (or am I being pointlessly dense). Why trains now forego bar cars? (The profit not worth the ruckus? Or risk of lawsuits once inebriated passengers get behind the wheels of their station cars?) The endless responsiveness of the marketplace, of course. Still, one can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a new ‘on premise’ ready to be imagined, perhaps by a liquor company, with its own ‘rolling stock,’ so to speak. Easy.