WisBusiness: WEBbeams aims for coffee shop market

By Amanda Ciesielczyk

Imagine strolling to your neighborhood coffee house to relax with a steaming mug of java and cruise through the Internet, only to find the shop’s network is continually crashing, disconnected or not secure.

With millions of lives being channeled through wireless connections every second of every day, this “third location” WiFi problem is common for many Internet patrons.

WEBbeams believes it has the solution.

Pices LLC, a broadband service company specializing in connectivity and located in Milwaukee, has created a new product, WEBbeams. Nationally, the company has nearly 100 customers.

“We were looking for what is new and fresh in technology and it was Wi-Fi,” said Brian Van Lieshout, head of WEBbeams sales.

“We originally started as a typical IT service company, building and networking computers. Then we dug into WiFi and focused on a market to launch in. Specialty coffee shops and cafes were becoming the third location for people to use WiFi and a natural fit for Internet connectivity.”

Van Lieshout said people need more reliable connectivity at these local coffee shops. The U.S. coffee shop market size has grown from $7.76 billion in 2000 to $12.30 billion in 2006.

“We have targeted the independents and micro-chains as they make up 60 percent of the market, need our service and no other company has focused on them,” Van Lieshout said.

The leading goal of WEBbeams is to establish a universal WiFi connection nationwide. This connectivity will one day allow customers to seamlessly roam from city to city with any web-surfing devices and experience a continuous connection.

To help jump-start this vision, WEBbeams is setting up a nationwide network of public wireless Internet access locations. “In addition, we have created strategic alliances with several leading-edge technology companies to ensure our hotspots and end users’ experience consistent quality every time they log on with WEBbeams,” the company’s website says.

WEBbeams enables local coffee shops to deliver safe, secure, and reliable Wi-Fi to customers. “Coffee shop customers can surf for free with a purchase or choose to buy a subscription that will give them Wi-Fi access across a nationwide roaming network,” said Van Lieshout.

“Once we had our idea we went to SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) for help. We thought the concept through and aligned ourselves with strategic partners for suppliers, Wi-Fi roaming partners, etc,” Van Lieshout said.

“We interviewed coffee shop owners to explain to them what this new concept was, learned their needs and attended coffee training schools to really understand our customer’s needs. We then hit the streets locally with door-to-door sales. As we started to become more embedded in the industry, we started attending tradeshows and other events.”

Van Lieshout said WEBbeams is different from other Internet providers as it provides a specialized, detailed service for a niche client.

“Our competitive advantage is quality of service, and customer service. We have the highest quality service on the market today,” said Van Lieshout.

“We ensure that customers have the available bandwidth for a high and secure connection. Our shop owners have a turn-key product that helps their business bring in customers, keep customers coming back and increase their sales.”

With their advantages in hand, WEBbeams must still work aggressively in order to compete with larger, more well-known Internet providers.

“While brainstorming, we came up with the name ‘WEBbeams,’ ” said Van Lieshout. “Everything then was spider, or wireless, or wi-fi, or hotspot. We came up with ‘WEBbeams’ from ‘web’, ‘Internet beams’ and ‘wireless.’ ”

WEBbeams is continually working to acquire investors, “through networking and looking to bank loans and angel investments,” said Van Lieshout.

In the future, Van Lieshout said, WEBbeams will, “build one complete large network to bring together a community of independents and micro chains and add services for coffee shops and their customers.”

Ciesielczyk is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.