Great Expectations is one of Dickens’ most enduring stories.
At the heart of it is Pip who is told he will come into a fortune. Immediately he assumes his benefactor is Miss Faversham and he lives his life based on this thought. His attitude and actions towards Miss Faversham are shaped by the mistaken belief. Much later in life Pip’s world crumbles when he finds out that the real benefactor is the criminal Magwych – All that he held dear was wrong. All that he’d done was based on a lie.
And just recently we’ve had a similar story set in the genteel world of home counties’ coffee houses. Our heroes are three siblings, the Tolleys. They set up a coffee shop called Harris+Hoole. It operated with the beliefs of “good coffee” and “happy people”. Customers read the handwritten menus on chalk boards and sat among vases brimming with lilies. The ‘coffee house’, as it was called, was successful and soon the Tolleys opened another one and then another. Before long, as word spread, they had a small chain of coffee houses set in prosperous suburbia.
Here at last were local coffee shops, serving the local community. Here at last were local coffee shops, a welcome antidote to the ubiquitous tax avoiding Starbucks.
The success of Harris+Hoole soon came to the attention of the omnipresent and omnipotent Tesco who approached the Tolleys with an offer – they would give the Tolleys a significant amount of money in return for a 49% non-controlling stake in Harris+Hoole. The Tolleys took the money and continued to serve great coffee to happy people.
And then the story breaks. Someone finds out that our cutesy coffee houses are actually supported by the devil incarnate and destroyer of high streets, Tesco. Reaction is swift and comments start appearing on Twitter:
- “Appalled to discover seemingly independent #Harris+Hoole coffee shop @N8CrouchEnd 49% owned by #Tesco. Never go again”
- “Certainly fooled silly old me thinking I was supporting a “local” business. Caffe Nero from now on.”
But, wait a minute – wasn’t the experience of going to Harris+Hoole good before Tesco splashed the cash?
And has it changed?
No – my spy in Uxbridge tells me the Harris+Hoole shop there is as busy and delightful as ever. You see, that’s what good branding is all about – providing great products and services. If a brand continues to do so, people will continue to love it, no matter who owns it.
And let’s just think about other brands that have ‘sold out’. The Body Shop started much like Harris+Hoole – one shop that got a local following, word-of-mouth spread the news, profits grew and another shop was opened….and another….and another….and eventually after many years of successful trading L’Oreal bought a controlling stake.
The same has happened to Ben and Jerry’s which was bought by Unilever and Innocent which is owned by Coca Cola. Green and Blacks, the chocolate brand is owned by Kraft. Jaguar was owned by Ford and now Tata in India. On each occasion ownership changed hands, some customers threw their hands up in horror. And on each occasion it was business as usual for the vast majority of customers.
I’m not saying that ownership doesn’t matter.
Having a certain owner does carry certain associations, whether positive or negative. But as long as a brand continues to provide great products and services, customers will continue to use it.
We all have great expectations of the brands we love and sometimes those expectations are let down.
In the case of Harris+Hoole some people have been disappointed, but I for one am looking forward to my next visit.
I might well settle down with a large cappuccino, a slice of cake and read some Dickens.