On the up · 15 July 2015

Four Corners: The coffee shop doing away with pretentiousness

Gary Baxter has tried to create a coffee shop that serves as a community hotspot from its Waterloo base. His own interest in travel is reflected all over the interior of the venue – with various paraphernalia from maps to old tickets lining the counter and walls.

Having picked up the Best Coffee Shop in Britain award at the 2015 Coffee Stop Awards as well as Best Use of Social Media, the cafe is making a name for itself as a customer-focused spot for escapism – which also serves a mean cup of coffee.

(1) Who are you and whats’s your business?

My name is Gary Baxter, I’m the CEO & bottle washer of Four Corners. We’re a coffee shop, providing coffee (and tea) to a consistently high level and with a huge focus on customer service and interaction with our patrons. We aim to provide people with a perfect “bubble” to lose themselves in for a little while. Going out for a coffee, or tea, or lunch, is a treat to yourself and we never forget that. We want to make that experience as perfect as possible. We aim to be a place for your dreams, schemes and daydreams – whatever you’re planning and plotting, hopefully you’ll find some inspiration at the Corners.

(2) How long have you been around for?

Four Corners has been trading for two years, was in the planning for another year, and existed as a pipe dream for about five years before that. We opened in July 2013 smack in the middle of a heatwave selling hot drinks to local office workers. Since then, we’ve built a loyal and vocal following, our loyalty card scheme doubles as a “passport” (take a picture of it and yourself when on your travels and we’ll shout you a free coffee when you come back). We’ve had pics sent in everywhere from Australia to Zanzibar and it gives us a great chance to engage with our customers above and beyond the daily grind.

(3) How do you make money? 

Ostensibly we’re a coffee shop/cafe and providing a consistently amazing product is our primary goal and source of revenue. Later, we layered more products into the offer (tea-infused gins and vodkas) and more recently we’ve started selling some Four Corners merchandise, all products that fit the ethos and quality of the brand.

(4) What makes you different and why should someone take notice?

I feel we’re different because we started with the customer experience, and built a product offer around that. We are incredibly serious about our coffee, but that doesn’t mean that’s what the customer wants to see/hear all the time. They trust us to deliver a quality product but they want to have a bit of fun too. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we eschew pomposity and pretentiousness – there’s quite a bit of that in the coffee scene!

Gary Baxter, owner of Four Corners

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

In terms of getting started, the key is finding the one thing to focus on. It’s very tempting to launch a business wanting to be all things to all people, but it’s simply too confusing for the customer and will look muddled. Find your USP and point of difference, and then build your business around that. There’s no point in copying something that already exists, you have to find points of difference rather than similarity and then a way to incorporate these ideas into something that people are prepared to hand over their hard earned pennies for – they’ve worked hard for them, why would they give them away without getting something amazing in return?

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Of course, winning the Best Coffeeshop in the UK award at the Coffee Stop Awards is a fabulous validation of the hard work, effort and sacrifice that’s been made from the whole team. Even before the results came through, it was clear that our biggest achievement was simply to get the business so far in less than two years – the feedback from our customers about how much they enjoyed and appreciated what we do was the biggest win of all, and a very humbling experience – the actual award was icing on the cake.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Day one! Opening a shop selling hot drinks to office workers in the middle of a heatwave was an incredibly tough start. Roadworks outside the shop doorway didn’t help either. Both were serious tests of faith and belief in the concept and the brand. Those first few months were terrifying, like the fear of an oyster at low tide. Will it work? Will anyone notice? Will anyone care?

(8) In five years’ time, we will be…

Encouraging more people to have fun and not to take life too seriously (hopefully from a number of branches of Four Corners).

(9) What one tip would you give to those starting out?

Be as original as possible. Nobody is interested in imitators.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

Jonathan Arana-Morton, founder of The Breakfast Club, has been a huge inspiration and provided me with a great deal of encouragement and practical support when the business was in a very embryonic stage. He proved that entering an unfamiliar industry was not only possible, but if the passion and workrate is there, you can create something absolutely amazing. His brand continues to do that, and is still a source of inspiration for us.

The Dollar Shave Club guys (Mark Levine and Michael Dubin) deserve a mention for breaking into a pretentious industry and poking a bit of fun at it too. It’s a very fine line to be funny, self-effacing and remain credible. Their ads are really clever.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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