Now that the Department of Homeland Security has put Dawsonville, Ga., (population 619) and its kangaroos on the map, perhaps Craig Lawson will consider adding a Kangaroo Brew to the menu at Steamers, the coffee shop he and his wife opened in Dawsonville last year.
A growing town in the North Georgia mountains — about an hour north of Atlanta — Dawsonville is home to the Kangaroo Conservation Center, which was named in a Homeland Security report made public this week as a possible target for terrorists. The Kangaroo Center is less than an hour´s drive from my house, and — trust me on this — there´s nothing there or in all of Dawsonville that would catch a terrorist´s attention. It´s a nice little town where evidence of sprawling Atlanta is cropping up on every corner and vacant lot.
On one of those spots — across the street from Burger King — sits Steamers, the friendly little coffee shop for which Lawson gave up the regular paycheck he received for 14 years as manager of a uniform rental company.
Lawson left his full-time job first and was followed, six months later, by his wife, Debbie, who had been manager over car loans at a credit union. Today, they´ve created a splash in Dawsonville with their coffee, of course, and also with their "Americano Idol" contest, patterned — natch — after TV´s "American Idol."
More on the contest in tomorrow´s Retail Strategies. Today, we consider Steamers´s nicknames, something that got started as a way to help Lawson greet customers and caught on. Lawson now has about 111 nicknames for his regular customers.
"It´s just a thing we started," Lawson says. "Customers would come in, and a lot of times when we first opened up — we had about 80 or 90 people a day coming in — and it was hard to remember everybody´s name.
"So we started making funny little nicknames," he says. "Now, I know their names, but everybody is sure proud of their nicknames. They want us to call out their nicknames when they come in."
To put a little order to the nickname game, Lawson and his wife came up with the "magic" number 22. "When they come in 22 times — it´s up to them to tell us when they´ve come 22 times — then we give them a nickname. They walk in the door, and we call them that. They get a little smile on their face and walk out with their coffee shop name."
Further adding to the friendly ambiance that Lawson and his wife are trying to create, Steamers has game tables — an attraction for regulars who come in to play checkers or chess. And the shop offers wireless Internet access, which draws other regulars who bring their laptops and spend an hour or two working while sipping, perhaps, a cuppa Peru Andes Gold.
As for the proposed Kangaroo Brew, it would go along with Gold Rush, a coffee offering named for the nearby town of Dahlonega, site of the first U.S. gold rush; and Amicalola Blend, named for the 729-foot Amicalola Falls, located not far from Dawsonville.
Lawson says he made more money in the corporate world, but that the trade-off has been more freedom and creativity. "It´s sort of a good trade-off. You make your own mistakes; you make your own successes."
One might add, in the spirit of the nearby Kangaroo Center, that Lawson has a big jump on any potential competition.