business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

The endless and growing battle for share of stomach has a couple of simple realities. There are only so many stomachs and despite the growing problem of obesity, for the most part the size of the market is barely expanding. One thing that is expanding, though, is the number of companies looking to engage in the battle for share of stomach.

Today, food can be bought nearly everywhere you can think of, from home repair shops to gyms. Now we can add banks to the list.

I discovered this new reality while walking on a street in Boston’s financial district. The sign above the store read café and through the window I could see a Peet’s coffee shop. Yet the sign on the door threw me completely: it reads Capital One.

Called Café 360, the new branches are Cap One’s new attempt to jump into one-stop shopping.

First, it’s not really a bank branch. Rather Café 360 is a coffee shop with an ATM, but that provides a convenience that supermarkets learned long ago by adding all manner of products and services, including ATMs and banking branches. At Café 360, customers can handle all their banking needs and, of course, pick up coffee and various accompanying foods depending on the time of day.

There are tables, clean bathrooms and free Wi-Fi for those wishing to stay a while. To sweeten the deal, Cap One customers get special discounts by using their credit or debit cards to pay for their products. Go figure, just as we all find new ways of avoiding visits to the bank, the banks suddenly find a way to reach out and bring us back. And that matters.

Before you scoff at this experiment understand the scope of what can happen here. Cap One is a large bank and is already experimenting with Café 360 in numerous cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and, inexplicably, St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I spoke with one of the employees there, who told me that on business days the traffic is brisk, which is hardly surprising. The entire premise of one-stop convenience is the ability to do two or more things in the same place. Café 360 does exactly that.

The reason this experiment should catch everyone’s attention is the potential competitor that could result. Cap One alone has more than 900 branches, yet other banks will no doubt be watching. Plus, if the marriage of coffee and commerce is really working we can only imagine how Starbuck’s will respond.

In fact, the idea of building these bank/coffee shops might explain why St. Cloud is on the list. If you can make it there it might suggest you can make it everywhere, including in countless smaller cities across the country.

In other words, we could be seeing the genesis of a new competitor for share of stomach, which is certainly nothing the traditional food retailing world desperately needed. But that’s what makes for innovation: companies filling a need or creating a solution where no one thought one was needed.

The battlefield just got more crowded. You can duck, or you can do battle.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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