Yup that awkwardly posed photo is of me. Circa 2007. About three months earlier, I had moved into a new office just opposite Canary Wharf in London. I was delighted until I discovered that to get my several-times-a-day-fix of caffeine, I would have to walk for 8 minutes across a bridge through the freezing rain to get to the nearest coffee shop. It took me just four trips on that first day, braving the nasty winter weather before deciding to set up a coffee source closer to the office. A colleague and I spit-balled many coffee-based business ideas and we decided to go with the coffee van you see in the photo above.
As part of our coffee business research, we interviewed other coffee van owners, and they introduced us to the concept of footfall. Footfall seemed to be the key metric when putting detail into our coffee business plan. We roughly knew how much daily coffee the other vans sold, based on the footfall that went past their vans. We just needed to find a place with high foot traffic. We set up people counters in various likey locations.
There was one particular bridge just outside our new office where the numbers seemed to be staggering. The footfall was more than ten times what any of the other vans were experiencing. And we managed to secure a location to set up our van nearby! Doing simple back-of-a-coffee-napkin math, we figured that if only half the rate of people stopped as in the other coffee van spots, we could still be selling over a thousand cups of coffee a day! Including all the ancillary sales of sweaty sandwiches, and slightly chewy croissants, we would be raking in over £1,000 a day in pure profit! We were truly set to become titans of the London coffee van industry.
Unfortunately, as we were financing this venture ourselves, we didn’t get to put our business plan in front of an investor who could have challenged our coffee business napkin. Nor did we have access to a time machine buy some of my current products that would have set my younger self straight. The thing we didn’t realise then is that footfall doesn’t mean sales.
A month after the new coffee van’s launch, we began to realise that most of the people who were going past our van were not interested in buying our coffee. They were interested in getting to the office on time, or not missing their train home. The footfall turned out to be immaterial. In our business plan, we shouldn’t have focused on the number of people going past; but on the number of people we could convince to join our coffee van queue.
The same can be said for whatever ‘footfall’ you have going past whatever ‘coffee van’ you sell from. You may wish for a Facebook Page with one million people, but if you can’t convince any of them to buy your products, then the numbers are irrelevant. The quality of the footfall you have is far more important than the numbers, as is the effort you put in convert that traffic.
So please don’t ask me just how to get more traffic. Rather ask me how to get better quality traffic and ask me how to convince more of the footfall that already comes past your van to stop in and join the queue.