Hub Is Going Back To Its Roots: Being a social hub.
Since the early aughts, there’s been one surefire way to get customers into any small business: a sign that reads “Free WiFi”. In 2014, a study conducted by Tech Pro Research found 74% of businesses use or plan to use a BYOD (bring your own device) policy, offering free WiFi for anyone who enters, with the hopes of bringing in more foot traffic. And as anyone can guess, having the policy works for a lot of different business types. As more and more people shift away from doing work on their computers at home or at the office, they are branching out to find other venues to conduct their work, bringing their laptops with them. If you walk into any business, local or big box, chances are they have a guest WiFi network you can connect to. But with the overwhelming omnipresence of WiFi, there’s an argument to be had about what the social repercussions could be. Operational costs, loitering, and other factors have begun to play a role in businesses deciding whether or not to keep free WiFi around.
This trend of implementing WiFi passes or WiFi available to paying customers only has now made its way to the Biggest Little City, where startups have moved in and brought the startup city vibe with them. But there’s a very unique thing about Reno: despite its rapid growth, it aggressively holds on to its small town mentality. As a result, there’s a resulting clash between the two mentalities that affects businesses and how they operate, and businesses need to form a line to simultaneously keep customers happy, and keep from going out of business.
WiFi has become a battleground in this way. As more people move in and explore what Reno has to offer (which is great), more people will want to use the free WiFi offered in local stores. However, people don’t see the hidden costs that come from “free” WiFi. At the end of the day, businesses still have to pay the bills and they walk a tightrope, balancing the customer experience and the operational costs. Reno businesses are beginning to realize this balancing act and have been racing to find a way to both keep in business and keep customers happy.
There is another, more important element to consider in this conversation about WiFi. As technology becomes more integral into our daily lives, there is a growing craving for a tech-free sanctuary. This is where Mark Trujillo, creator and owner of Hub Coffee Roasters, found the inspiration to implement a one-hour WiFi pass with transactions.
Walking into Hub today, you can look around and see customers heads down, immersed in the blue light from laptops, tablets, and phones. Everyone is plugged in and in their own worlds, ignoring the world in front of them. The coffeehouse is silent, save for the baristas making orders and the music playing in the background. No one is talking. This is not the same Hub Mark started.
Back in 2009, when Hub launched, Mark considered not having WiFi at all. Mark’s vision of Hub has always been to be a social hub, centered around the human element. The goal has always been to educate people about coffee and become a place where people can meet and conversate and start a dialogue. But at a time when smartphones were beginning to take off and the presence of WiFi was either a dealmaker or a dealbreaker for customers, not to mention how the Hub’s operational systems rely on WiFi, Mark allowed it for free.
Ten years later, Mark realized something needed to change. He had a yearning to get back to the roots of Hub and coffeehouses throughout history to be a hub for conversation and discussions. There’s a lot of different types of businesses that thrive on free WiFi; but coffeehouses were never meant to be one of them.
Coffeehouses have always been home to a certain kind of culture. From its origination in Ethiopia to it’s spread throughout the Middle East and Turkey, to its adoption across Europe, coffeehouses were considered places for people to meet and socialize. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, they were synonymous with “meetings of the minds”, where philosophers, politicians, scientists, and others with highly educated backgrounds would come and discuss the problems of the world and the solutions. They were also accessible to everyday citizens, meeting for lunch, discussing news and gossip. Coffeehouses have always been centered around the communities that inhabit them. Even in more modern times (before the rise of WiFi, of course), coffeehouses were often central perks to friends just hanging out and getting caught up on their lives. The community is at the heart of it all; the plea of social “togetherness”. A craving to escape to the pre-WiFi age, when you could sit and enjoy your coffee with a conversation or a book.
This influenced Mark to create Hub’s WiFi passes. The goal is to get the coffeehouse back to its roots as a place for people to come converse. For any transaction, from a simple cup of drip coffee to a bag of their specialty brewed beans, you get a ticket, roughly the same size as what you’d get in a raffle. The ticket has a one-time-use code printed on it that allows the customer one-hour access to the Hub’s WiFi. Once the hour is up, the pass expires. Customers can get another hour-long pass for as low as a $1 for getting a refill. Thus, it’s a win-win-win situation. Customers have have high speed internet access, the Hub continues to make revenue to cover the cost of the high speed internet access, and for those that rather come to Hub to socialize, the passes encourage you to put down your device and look up.
That is what makes Hub so special as a coffeehouse in our community. It’s there to be the hub for the community to come to and socialize. It’s for friends who haven’t seen each other in years and friends who saw each other just yesterday. It’s for future business partners discussing their startup ideas and collaborators wanting to brainstorm. It’s for starting new friendships and relationships just as much as it’s for continuing old ones. Some might see the WiFi passes as discouraging or inconvenient at first. But It’s not meant to be discouraging or inconvenient. It’s meant to be a reminder of the community and new opportunity sitting in front of you.