What this ad agency learned from opening a cafe in Locust Point

When Planitthe advertising agency that I co-founded decided to move from an office tower in Inner Harbor to the booming neighborhood of Locust Point, we wanted to make it something special, not only for our employees, but also for the community.
While the old factory that would become our new office offered enough space for the amenities employees requested (like free parking, plenty of collaboration spaces, a bike rack, and a beer fridge), it lacked a crucial element: a good local coffee; a space where creative ideas are sketched on napkins over a hot drink and shared conversations.
Thus, in keeping with the spirit of Planit respectful disturbancewe launched our own and Order & Chaos Coffee (O&X) was born.
What did we learn when we became the new cafe owners in Baltimore? That making great espresso drinks takes different muscles than running one of Baltimore’s biggest ad agencies.
Here are some of our main takeaways:

Customers behave differently from customers. Salaried employees have different needs than hourly employees. The agency’s P&L is quite different from that of the coffee shop. The nuances of both businesses force us to change in decision-making, communication, promotions and leadership. Accept these differences and learn from each.

The opening of O&X gave us a unique opportunity to launch a new brand from scratch. We help our customers do this all the time, but launching our own brand has given us a platform to experiment, learn about consumer behaviors and try new, innovative marketing tactics.
And the agency leveraged O&X’s marketing channels to test new strategies. Lessons learned from O&X’s campaigns have influenced innovative strategies to Leaf throughone of our largest customers in the food and beverage industry.
Look for strategic ways to leverage your second effort so that it can benefit and educate multiple voters.

O&X isn’t just about serving coffee, it’s about using coffee to connect Planit with the neighborhood and business community while rewarding our team. Opening a cafe aligned with and reinforced our vision and values. There is a lesson here for any leader.
Planit has a reputation for breaking convention in an effort to stand out. Like installing street-level “retail” signs for our advertising agency in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 1999. This was not expected of service companies at the time, but it gave Planit the buzz we wanted to compete with and grow.
Of course, opening a café involves risks. This is not what people expect from an ad agency. But taking calculated risks and doing the unexpected also brings great rewards.


Marilyn J. Hernandez