The Small, Sometimes Smelly, Details of a Brand Experience

More terrifying than walking into a public bathroom with a toilet seat cover down?

Walking into one that looks like this:


No, I wasn’t at Anthony’s gas station on a one lane road in the middle of nowhere. Nor at a Burger King in downtown Brooklyn. I would have been fine had I been at a roadside bar in Mexico. But I was at an otherwise sweet little coffee shop called Hedgehog in my quaint Brooklyn “suburb,” Park Slope.

This coffee shop has put thought into most things – the pastry display, the art on the walls, the little hedgehog touches on the tables and the walls, plants, cups that are just insulated enough that they don’t require a sleeve, an older barista whose disposition is in welcome stark contrast to his surly counterparts down the street. How did they completely miss the bathroom?


At the risk of gross insinuation, a coffee shop bathroom isn’t a nice to have, it’s a necessity. Especially when each of the tables has a cute wi-fi sign inviting you to stay a while. But this bathroom is simply begging its patrons to leave.

Brand experience is a sum of lots of things. Consistently delightful, helpful, insightful (whatever-ful depending on the industry and product offering) is the goal. I just had lunch the other day with an old friend who is Chief Brand Officer at a hospitality company. He was toiling over the “vessels” in which drinks should be served. Really small details, but that kind of decision matters. Most options he could choose would have no impact bad or good – a glass is a glass. But if he decides to cut corners here – plastic, cheap, etc. – customers will take note, even if it’s subconscious. Alternatively, he could decide to spend a bit more money and time here, and suddenly that gorgeous design, the heavy weight of the glass, the fact that he’s chosen something slightly different for each kind of drink, makes a big, positive and memorable statement about his brand. It’s like a fabulous necklace making my J Crew dress look like an Armani (almost.)

So I’m not talking about a total bathroom renovation, though honestly that might be a wise investment.

  1. Remove the mop contraption from the bathroom: $0
  2. Put the toilet scrubber behind the toilet to the right: $0
  3. Use up the cleaning supplies that are already in the bathroom: $0
  4. … and then replace with organic, nice-smelling stuff (you are in Park Slope): $20
  5. Replace the toilet seat: $25
  6. Paint – deep blue or grey to soften the ambience: $50 and a few hours
  7. Maybe a little throw rug that can easily be put in the wash every other day? $40
  8. A small table next to the sink: $50
  9. A nice smelling candle on above table: $15
  10. A softer lightbulb: $2

A total investment of $202 to reflect the brand they’re obviously trying to establish in the rest of the shop, and to eliminate the chance that some other horrified patron will write another something like this. Yelp’s three stars aren’t too favorable, but not a single person remarked on the bathroom. The only explanation is they didn’t stay long enough to have to use it.


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