A coffee shop encounter in Penang

armenian street heritage hotel georgetown penang

The Armenian Street Heritage Hotel: a landmark building in Georgetown… with an excellent coffee shop on the ground floor.

I am in Penang, Malaysia. In Georgetown to be precise. Despite the heavy traffic and the run-down look of most building, I feel quite at home here. The town centre is easy to navigate, there is amazing and cheap food to be found, most people speak excellent English and are polite (that’s what 200 years of British rule will do to you), and the island seems more liberal than other parts of the country (I prefer to see girls in miniskirts rather than in burqas).

A good coffee shop in Georgetown

Today I went for a walk around town. After a while I was in desperate need of a cold drink and cold air. The city is permanently hot and humid, which gets me tired and thirsty quickly. Also, I needed to work on a deadline (I don’t have many of those, but they do occur). In other words, it was the perfect time to sit down in a nice airconditioned coffee shop and crack open the old laptop. Easier said than done.

As opposed to most Western cities, old-town-Georgetown isn’t littered with fancy coffee shops. There are plenty of ‘kafes’: open-front, fan-cooled watering holes that sell a decent ice coffee and food; but places with wifi and airconditioning are few and far between. It took me some 20 minutes before I found a place that had both, as well as cold drinks. Finally!

koh coffee shop manager

Koh, the manager

I ordered an apple-orange-banana-shake and got to work on the project. After about half an hour, an immaculately dressed Asian gentleman came over to my booth and asked me in perfect English how the wifi was. “Great!” I replied. It was the fastest connection I had had in days. We talked a bit about travelling, and it turned out that he was the manager of the coffee shop/restaurant, as well as the large hotel in which it was located. He introduced himself as Koh.

Free marketing advice

When I told Koh that I worked as an online marketer, he said: “I could use some marketing advice”. Now that’s something I always like to hear. While I charge a hefty fee for true marketing consulting jobs (which involve doing real research), I’m always happy to dispense some freee advice when asked. Especially when I’m enjoying a cold drink. Koh told me the hotel had opened only half a year earlier–Sounds familiar? See ‘‘). It was doing well, but the coffee shop/restaurant wasn’t attracting a lot of business yet. He wondered why, especially since it was rather moderately priced. After a quick lookaround and a Google search, I could come up with two instant recommendations:

1. Improve visibility. The coffee shop is located on the ground floor of a landmark hotel (the Armenian Street Heritage Hotel), with two entrances: one on a popular tourist spot (Armenian Street) and one on a large throughfare without much walking traffic (Lebuh Carnarvon). Anyone in the neigbourhood will easily spot the hotel. The coffee shop, however, only has an entrance on Lebuh Carnarvon (plus one inside the hotel). From Armenian Street nothing would give away its existence. Even on Lebuh Carnarvon the shop front is obscured by a mishmash of banners, posters, and price lists. Even I almost walked past it (until I helted, drawn by the ‘wifi’ sign). Visibility could easily be improved by: creating a cleaner, more obvious front on the main street with a simple menu on a stand; putting up a big sign in the tourist walking street, listing the selling points of the shop (“Free wifi; airconditioning; comfortable seating; good food; local prices”) and pointing to the coffee shop entrance inside the hotel.

2. Establish brand identity. While trying to connect to the wifi network, it took me some effort to figure out the name of the place. It turned out to be Kopitan Classic, which is part of a nationwide chain. However, the branch was not even listed on the chain’s own store locator page. And what exactly was this place trying to be? A restaurant? A coffee shop? They had an extensive food list, but the atmosphere was that of a coffee shop. On TripAdvisor it was simply listed under the name of the hotel. To anyone who didn’t study the place, it would simply be known as ‘the coffee shop inside the Armenian Street Heritage Hotel’. That’s no way to create a brand. To establish brand identity, you have to connect a suitable name to a clear concept, and communicate It across various channels (online review sites, travel blogs, local free tourist maps, flyers in hotels, signs, word of mouth).

So there you go Koh. There’s definitely some room for improvement as far as the marketing of your coffee shop goes. To get the ball rolling, here’s some free publicity:

The coffee shop is called Kopitan Classic, and it is located on the ground floor of the Armenian Street Heritage Hotel. For digital nomads it’s a welcome addition to the list of Georgetown coffee shops, as it has fast wifi, airconditioning, power outlets and comfortable booths. I didn’t try the food, but at least it won’t break the bank if you get hungry. The address is: 139-1-01 Lebuh Carnarvon, 10200 George Town. On TripAdvisor you can find the place listed as Armenian St Heritage Hotel.

After I finished my work and my drink, Koh offered me to take me up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel. It was normally closed to guests for safety reasons, but hey, he’s the manager. From the terrace I got a terrific view of old-town-Georgetown, as well as a bit of a history lesson. It made for a pleasant ending of a day of sightseeing. Sometimes I just love being a marketer.

view armenian street heritage hotel rooftop terrace

A view from the top of the Armenian Street Heritage Hotel


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