By Paul Dumouchelle, Management Consultant, ADVISA
This week I did what I usually do when I’m waiting for the car to be serviced which is head over to the Panera Bread next door to the dealership and get a coffee and a cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll at Panera Bread is a pretty good one. Probably not world-class, mind you, but something I can eat with regularity with some satisfaction. I don’t like to eat gooey or greasy things with my fingers and Panera Bread always gives me a fork to eat the cinnamon roll; which is just as well since I’d have to ask them for one if they didn’t give one to me.
While ruminating on this topic I began to consider the marketing aspects of this situation. In general, these days, I prefer to Panera Bread to other choices. I don’t think I am alone, I recall seeing a Wall Street Journal article over the summer about how Panera was doing well, expanding in the recession and picking up cheap real estate along the way.
One of my other options for “coffee and a pastry” is Starbucks. If it really is just a coffee I want then I prefer Starbucks, I think their coffee is the best. I have a Starbucks card and use it fairly frequently but, in general, I’m probably more often inside a Panera Bread. The barristas in Starbucks are just so juiced up on caffeine they are really a bit too perky for my taste most of the time. And the pastries in Starbucks are lame. Again, it seems I am not alone; Starbucks has been contracting – at least in number of outlets – for some time. That is probably due as much to earlier overexpansion as anything. For a time, Starbucks were popping up in every available square foot of empty retail space.
Starbucks tested the limits of their brand’s capacity and found the limits and went past them. There were Starbucks in the Meijer AND the Target on Sawmill Road, for example, right across from one another. The Meijer one eventually closed while the Target operation was still going strong the last time I was there. It seems the Starbucks brand works better with Target’s demographics than Meijer’s – which doesn’t surprise me.
The free WiFi at Panera Bread is another important consideration – it meets my internet-usage needs when I’m travelling throughout the Midwest in my work. Starbucks advertised “free WiFi” in connection with a Starbucks card and I was quite excited by that until I started the enrollment process and realized I’d have to sign up for AT&T’s WiFi service to access the available free hours. The last thing I need is another “account” that taps into my credit card – even if I don’t charge anything there.
An honorable mention, of sorts, must go to La Chatelaine and their croissants – these are by far my favorite pastry in Central Ohio. I like La Chateleine’s coffee, too. They even have free WiFi, now. Even with all that, I’m still in a Panera Bread more often than La Chateleine and the reason is convenient location (not to mention that La Chateleine is purely a Columbus-area chain). If I’m meeting someone, as I often am, a Panera Bread is easier to find. The last time I met somebody at the Dublin La Chateleine they were late because they couldn’t easily see it while driving back and forth on the busy Bridge Street.
My main complaint, such as it is, about the Panera Bread cinnamon roll is that the outer edges are a bit dry. Cutting into one from the outer edge creates a veritable shower of crusty sugar bits from the coating they drizzle all over it. I then have to spend the rest of my eating frenzy trying to get the little sugar bits to stick to my fork in some way. Now I’m not so sure this is really a big complaint because I’ve had gooey-er cinnamon rolls that aren’t dry at all in any part and the frosting is really soft and smooth and I find those to be a bit much – it seems they are a bit undercooked and the frosting is really sickening. I’m not a big fan of frosting, either, preferring a cake, for example, that is unfrosted or simply glazed.
So I have to wash down those first few dry bites with my coffee. That’s fine, that’s what the coffee’s for, after all. But after I fight through the first sort-of-dry-ish outer ring then we’re getting into the real meat of the experience. Perhaps the reason I really go for a cinnamon roll is that it reminds me of the cinnamon bread with raisins that my Mom used to buy. I don’t remember where she got it, perhaps from the milk-delivery service that came to our house, but that cinnamon bread was great. I used to pick out the raisins if there were too many and the best part was the crumbled sugar/flour bits or whatever they were on the top crust – but man that bread made some good toast! When I finally make it to the soft inner rings of the Panera Bread cinnamon roll with the soft pastry and sweet brown cinnamon paste – well, it is a delight!