SME brands that I like – Journal Cafe

It’s easy to miss, up a small flight of stairs out the front of the City Library in Flinders Lane. A subtle name on the window is all that announces it, but the unassuming facade hides a lively cafe that is the favoured meeting place of many. This week the SME Brand that I like is Journal Cafe.

In Melbourne it seems there’s a new cafe opening every day and you could easily try a different one-a-day and still not get through them all. But some of us have a favourite cafe – that place where you gravitate to, meet with people, stop by for a quick cuppa, or stake out a spot and settle in for a few hours, over and over again.

Not long after I first moved back to Australia from the US, I discovered Journal Cafe. I had gone to join the City Library and on my way out I stopped at the cafe by the door for a quick cup of tea. And just like that I was hooked.

So what makes a good cafe that keeps you coming back?

Good coffee (I do drink it now and then). One of the few places in Melbourne where you also get a great pot of tea (complete with hot water on the side in case it gets too strong). Communal tables and tables for two. Daily newspapers to share around and a nice pile of well-thumbed magazines for when you forget your book. A simple menu of tasty eats for breakfast and lunch, or you can head upstairs to the Canteen if you are in the mood for more substantial fare – a glass of wine if you are so inclined – and a steady hum of conversation and music du jour to keep you company.

Cafe maestro Johnny is always on hand to greet the regulars by name, and with a smile, keeps things running smoothly. And the young friendly staff are always quick to take care of you.

Is Journal special among cafes with a knock out “differentiator” that sets it apart? No. However, being different just to be different isn’t all it is cracked up to be. More important to know what you stand for and what you have to offer and to do it consistently.

Brand is the result of everything you do (and the promises you keep) and at Journal Cafe that result is to make sure everyone who passes through doesn’t just get their daily coffee, but has their day made a little brighter for having stopped by. And judging by the number of familiar faces I see there, I’m not alone.

You can learn more about Journal Cafe here or just stop by next time you are in the Melbourne CBD.

Here are three takeaways for other SMEs:

1. Don’t forget the basics. Extra touches are great but make sure you’ve got the basics in place (whatever your basics are).

2. Consistency is king. Inconsistency kills customer confidence, and if you can’t replicate what they valued, you can kiss loyalty goodbye.

3. You aren’t selling coffee. Starbucks understood this – before they forgot they were really building community and started selling coffee. People rarely just buy the product – so what are you really selling?

As a note – anyone I mention in these blog posts is here solely because I like what they are doing and think others can pick up a tip or two from them.

If you like a brand and think I would like it too, post it in comments or give me a shout out on Twitter with the name and I promise I’ll look at them – can’t promise I’ll talk about them though.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at


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