One Dollar billLast year I began what I call Nomad Computing. Looking for a way to break up my usual routine and to have some interaction with others, I found working at a nearby coffee shop that offered a free WiFi access point to be a nice change of pace. It’s said that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace in a public square and I can see why. There’s something about the energy of having other activity around you that helps to motivate and keep me focused. There have been some days where I’ve spent the entire day in a coffee shop just clicking away on my laptop. My schedule, nor my stamina can do that very often, but having a solid 10 hour chunk of time to get work done is always nice. There are people that provide you with food and beverages, so that I can focus on nothing but work and I get a TON of stuff done.

One of my favorite hang outs has been Perk Central. I stumbled upon this place after fighting to find a good HotSpot and Perk Central kind of became my little oasis. It was my home away from home if you will, or is it my office away from office? They have the best coffee in town and I now stock my Fresh-O-Lator with their beans so that I can enjoy it at home. Since I would occasionally spend long hours there, I got to know the owners fairly well. Sometimes they would offer me a taste of a new dessert they were trying, or a bite of a new soup to get my opinion. Everything I tasted tasted great and I would end up ordering it when they’d begin stocking it. All-in-all, I really like hanging out at Perk Central and I’d even go there for a quick lunch, or a morning coffee when my schedule wouldn’t allow for a long visit.

One day I scheduled an NPUG Leadership Council Meeting at Perk Central. The group needed Internet access and it seemed like the perfect place for us to meet. Once everyone was there and we were all settled down and ready to start, I went to plug in my laptop for us to use. As I leaned down to insert the plug into the wall, I was met with a 3×5 card taped to the top of the outlet cover which read, “Use of electricity is $1.00 per hour”. The meeting was getting started and I had a lot on my mind, so I just lifted the card and plugged in my laptop. I thought it was strange, but I had to deal with it later and focus on the task at hand. When the meeting was over, I went up to the counter to pay and I told them that I had plugged in my laptop for 2 hours. Sure enough, they charged me for the time and I paid my bill and left.

I want Perk Central to be a profitable business, because I like their coffee and I like the owners. I gave them a lot of word of mouth, because I’d tell anyone who wanted to listen about them. “You like coffee? Well, if you’re ever in Antioch, you’ve GOT to go by Perk Central. They have the best coffee in town.” I was a loyal and devoted customer. Even though I might be there all day on some occasions, I would make sure I spent enough to warrant my stay. I wouldn’t just buy the $2.50 bottomless cup and sip on it all day. I would buy lunch, soft drinks, snacks, you name it, because I didn’t want to outstay my welcome. But the 3×5 postcard was like a Dear John letter letting me know that it was time to go.

Is It The Money?
It’s only a dollar. That’s not a lot of money, even if you add up an all-day stay you’re only talking about $8 – $10 maximum. Unfortunately it’s not ABOUT the money, it’s about the principle. Is powering an occasional laptop causing such a drain on their cash flow that they have to compensate by deferring those charges to the customer? If a business feels the need to have to impose a fee like this, then you have to question how stable the business is. Did the owners sit around trying to think of new revenue streams and thought this was an untapped market? Surely this surcharge CAN’T be generating much in the way of revenue.

Is It The Lack Of Space?
It would be one thing if Perk Central was a small place and they needed the room. THAT I would understand and I would have been mindful of, but they have a large space and I’ve never seen it full. I’ve seen them have a large number of customers at one time, but there was always plenty of places to sit and relax. If space were tight, I would never have been an imposition and hogged space that could have otherwise gone to generate more sales, but space is not the issue.

Is It Me?
Maybe it’s not about the money at all, maybe it’s the fact that they don’t want people hanging out all day using their Internet access. When I asked the owner why they started Perk Central, he said that his brother owns a coffee shop in D.C. and he liked the community that the coffee shop created. He liked the idea of doing that here in Nashville, so he quit his job and started this business. Well the surcharge flies in the face of creating a community. The fact that they provide free Internet access implies that they are looking for customers to stay awhile doesn’t it? Yet to then charge for electricity seems a little peculiar. It’s as if you’ve been invited to a party only to be told you’re parking cars. So it’s free as long as my battery lasts, but once I need to power up there will be a surcharge? Odd, very odd.

I may not understand the motivation behind the charge, but I do understand the effect that it’s had on my business with Perk Central. When I visited there regularly, I was spending at least $50 a week, sometimes more. It was nothing for me to go buy a pound of coffee for a friend, or have small gatherings there with 6 or 7 people. I was given a gift card there for Christmas in the amount of $50 and I began using it in January, after the surcharge went into effect and I still have $10 on the card. I buy a pound of coffee once a month and an occasional cup of coffee to go and that’s it. I’m not comfortable hanging out there anymore, it’s as simple as that.

Will I ever bring up this subject with the owners? Probably not, it seems like such a paltry sum and I wouldn’t even know where to begin to broach the subject. I like envisioning myself as Tyler Durden and saying something cool like, “Charging for electricity, that’s clever. How’s that working out for you?”, but I doubt I’ll ever say anything at all. Because when you break it all down, coffee is a luxury item, it’s not a necessity and the fact that I indulged myself by hanging out in a coffee shop, when I could have just as easily worked in my office, is just that – an indulgence. Besides, there’s plenty of other coffee shops in town.

One of my favorites is on Music Row called Caffeine and they guys there seem genuinely interested in earning my business. On several occasions the staff have asked me my name in a gesture to get to know me. On one occasion, I stayed there the better part of a morning and I was always made to feel welcome. I felt like they were happy I was staying there to work and so I’ve been going there more and more. Little do they know that they earned my business over one dollar.