The New Receptionistas


The local office for a national advertising agency discovers a fresh way to extend its brand There are no flashy green logos adorning the windows of Taxi Café on Richards Street in downtown Vancouver, no wooden counters lined with paper cups bearing indecipherable codes and no squadron of baristas scrambling to keep up with a never-ending stream of orders. Yes, the small street-front coffee vendor is a fully functioning café, but it also serves as the reception area for the Vancouver office of Taxi Canada Inc., an advertising and design firm headquartered in Toronto. It’s no surprise then that the café on the first floor of the Lumberman’s building, a restored heritage building, has a lone barista who, instead of a touch screen with buttons for hundreds of coffee variations, is equipped with a Mac Book, a phone and a directory of Taxi’s Vancouver employees. According to barista/receptionist Yvonne Manson, the number of regulars at the café, including “the guys from BC Hydro across the street,” has increased about threefold since she began working there three months ago. But even so, revenue from beverages, Taxi’s own brand of coffee beans, travel mugs and carrier bags amounts to only about $500 a week. So what’s the point? It turns out the café is more a marketing strategy than a profit centre, a real-life demonstration of the ad agency’s guiding principle. “We believe that brands should live and breathe and represent the same thing to consumers, wherever and whenever they touch them,” explains Victoria Gray, general manager of Taxi’s Vancouver office. Since the Taxi agency is a brand, Gray continues, it just seemed like a natural extension of its business to create different “touch points” through the café and the coffee merchandise it sells. The opportunity for self-advertising doesn’t hurt, either: wall posters and three television screens display samples of the agency’s work. “It’s a bit more about cachet than it is about café,” explains Gray, with an ad exec’s knack for a catchy turn of phrase. But still, she hopes to boost the café’s business by making it a bit more obvious that it’s more than just an office. A few locals seem to have already figured that out, as they wander in for a friendly chat with the barista/receptionist and a cup of coffee, probably one of the cheapest in the city at only a dollar a cup.