Fast Company

A cuppa joe and a toaster, to go

This morning I had a really great cappuccino (and, I confess, a sinful sugared doughnut) out of a chic little cup while cruising the wares at the new Alessi store in Soho.

Why should you care (except for a justifiable concern about my waistline, especially during Fashion Week)?

Because these days, the buzzword in retail is “customer experience” . When it’s more efficient – and often cheaper – for busy shoppers to go online for their merchandise, retailers need to work even harder to get customers to leave their laptops and head out the door.

That reality was central to the thinking behind Hani Rashid’s design of Alessi's stunning new flagship store. Before you even get to the back where the Michael Graves teakettles and Philip Starck juicers are displayed, you pass by an authentic Italian coffee bar, where you can purchase espresso or a latte brewed via a $14,000 espresso machine from Florence. Then, pad those hips with the kinds of pastries you’re likely to get in Milan – biscotti, croissants, yummy little crème-filled doughnuts -- no scones or muffins, thank you. All this is under the supervision of “Joe,” the pair of coffee shops routinely cited as New York’s best, most fanatical purveyors of, well, joe.

If the spirit moves you, bring your espresso along as you shop for watches, pots, or cool home office gear. Or, you can come early, before the store is even open, and pick up a latte for the office.

For Alessi, a coffee bar is not just a clever gimmick. “Coffee is near to our family,” says Alessio Alessi, the company’s commercial director who flew in from Italy for the opening. It turns out that Alessi’s material grandfather was the inventor of the espresso machine, having been inspired by watching the hot water bubble up in his wife’s washing machine. Sadly, Grampa Bialetti was no businessman. His attempts to commercialize his gadget were all failures. Luckily, his son was more gifted commercially, and today Alessi is synonymous with coffee gear, from elegant little spoons to tiny cups to press filter coffee makers.

I’ll be back. The coffee was great, but more importantly, the array of merchandise created design lust in my heart.

Ding, ding, ding! Customer experience jackpot!

Where have you hit three cherries in the retail slot machine these days?

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