#3: Loyalty, Membership and Tribes

I’ve become a big fan of Joe & The Juice, a newish cafe in London. Since I first discovered it 6 months ago its grown rapidly and now its in many neighbourhoods.

Joe & The Juice gets a bunch of things right — good food and drinks, competitively priced, space well designed and well-kept, good music and really nice and energetic employees. The latter two contribute to a really upbeat vibe, almost like a club atmosphere.

It’s not for everyone. As my niece says, its like “the Abercrombie of juice shops”, which is pretty spot on I’ll admit. It’s also not for every situation. In the same way that if you wanted to have a sentimental talk with a depressed friend you wouldn’t take him to a night club to talk likewise you also wouldn’t want to take him to Joe & The Juice — it’s like that.

What I find interesting and worth writing about is actually the Joe & Juice loyalty cards. A ton of fast food shops have little loyalty cards where you get a stamp for each purchase fitting a certain criteria and after a certain number of purchases (usually 10) you get a free one. I have about a dozen of these including multiple ones from the same company. I usually lose them or forget to take them with me.

Now the Joe & The Juice card is the only one I keep in my wallet. Joe & The Juice took a twist on this card concept. Instead of accumulating stamps — essentially building towards your delayed gratification — you pay for all 10 juices up front at a discounted price. So for the small juices you pay £37.00 for 10 up front, whereas buying 1 by 1 its £4.50 each. There’s also no expiration. I feel that I’ve bought more than a discount, I’ve bought membership.

There are a lot of reason I assume why Joe & The Juice does this.

  • They get cash flow up front — which probably aids their ability to fund growth and forecast demand.
  • They probably get a good 10–15% of “free” sales when people lose their cards or fail to redeem.
  • They probably also get more foot traffic from customers who come back in to redeem and are able to use that to sell them more stuff (protein shot with that juice?).
  • I bet they also get more loyal customers who buy the card again once it expires.

Also I think the delayed gratification of the stamp approach may be subconsciously annoying and a bit of a let down in the end — e.g. I’ve been building up to this free coffee for 2 months and now its only worth £2.30?? Joe & The Juice just rips the bandaid off in the beginning and let’s you enjoy the product for what it is not what you’ll get by consuming it, and discount over that time period instead of waiting for it.

The question I find most interesting is how is Joe & The Juice able to pull this off? Yes, the discount is bigger the free coffee (substantially at ~£7.50 vs ~£2.50–300%). But I think there must be more to it — they convince someone to part with £37.00 to buy the first juice. I’d love to ask Seth Godin this question as I bet he’d have a fantastic answer. My guess though is that Joe & The Juice’s ability to do this comes from the brand and culture — i.e. the tribe they’ve created. When I see people walk into Joe & The Juice most seem happy and upbeat. Of those who aren’t so chirpy when they walk in I’ve seen many become so, often induced by either the music or the barista dancing to hip hop tunes while he cuts avocados. When people pay that £37 they’re buying more than a discount on 10 juices, they are being a vibe.

Now bulk buying up front doesn’t work in every context. That being said I do have a friend who buys 10 roundtrip flights on one route each year because he gets a deal, loves the airline, and knows he’s going to use 80% of it. I expect more businesses to try to do this for cash and loyalty / life-time value. However I think the broader and more powerful mechanism here is the tribe combined with the economic loyalty of paying up front, which in turn reinforces the tribe.

Every time I use that Joe & The Juice card it reminds me of the value of looking beyond more immediate needs or financial objectives to invest in culture and customer experience — it can create an incredible foundation for growth and the opportunity to create something uniquely amazing.

If you’re running an early stage start-up I recommend going to get a juice at Joe & The Juice and contemplate how you can build an amazing tribe around your brand and connect that to your unit economics. (you can buy a single juice too and just enjoy the music)