In a highly competitive coffee marketplace, coffee shop owners sometimes need inspiration on how to start a coffee shop and run one, and give themselves a competitive edge. In this post, I’ll detail seven useful strategies that all coffee shop owners can use to improve their business, making and keeping valued customers.
Let’s get started!
Start With Customer Focus For Coffee
The coffee shop market is extremely competitive, and as a result, coffee shop owners need to ensure that they’re keeping as many customers as possible. Jeff Bezos is well-remembered for his customer obsession, and regardless of your views on the former Amazon CEO, his business best practices remain highly relevant in all modern sales-oriented operations.
Hiring excellent baristas who are naturally person-oriented goes a long way. Find people who really enjoy others; don’t count on training converting employees from introverts to extroverts. Wherever possible, give customers the benefit of the doubt. Offer high-quality drinks at reasonable prices, relying on your customer focus to make lasting connections and establish loyalty with your clientele. Customer Focus and Customer Satisfaction is the most important factor while considering how to start a coffee shop. Thinking and planning ahead on this, will ensure success.
Get The Word Out about Your Coffee Shop
Before you can make loyal customers, you need to get people in your coffee shop first. Employ whatever tools are at your fingertips to bring name recognition to your brand. Even brick-and-mortar shops nowadays need to be well-versed in the internet, and having a subsection of your efforts go towards digital marketing can go a long way.
This doesn’t necessarily mean buying pay-per-click (PPC) ads on various web platforms; local SEO can be a more cost-effective way to bring people to your site and therefore to your business.
If you’re new to local SEO, don’t worry: there are plenty of free places to learn about it online.
In addition to, for example, creating a coffee blog, you might have a YouTube channel about coffee (like Elemental Coffee does well) or an Instagram page on which your baristas can post their best latte art. How to start a coffee shop online is something every coffee shop owner misses in their business plan, make sure you highlight it as one of the most important success criteria.
Establish Your Coffee Shop ‘Vibe’
One of the things that make our favorite coffee shops our favorite is they have a recognizable feeling, or vibe, which we understand. Maybe you want your coffee shop to have a similar feeling to what led to Starbucks’ monumental rise, as a “third place” where people can just relax.
Or maybe you’re like one of the many to-go industrial-chic hipster coffee shops in Brooklyn, where busy digital nomads and rat racers alike can stop in for a quick, high-quality brew on the way to work.
Whatever your vibe, it should be well-known and established, and there should be consistency through your storefront design, web persona, and barista personalities.
Consider Community Outreach
One of the ways that coffee shops still operate today is as an in-person Craigslist or personals page. Everyone will recognize the phenomenon of the corkboard by the bathrooms with community postings. A board like this can be a really powerful way that your coffee shop can build a reputation amongst your clientele as a working member of the community.
When people learn about a free classical music concert from a corkboard in your coffee shop, their positive experience of this concert goes a long way to contributing to a positive opinion of your business. That, combined with a highly customer-focused approach can be a boon for coffee shop owners.
Less Is More
Many new coffee shop owners feel that they have to reinvent the wheel when they’re crafting their menu. After all, there are plenty of ways to brew coffee, while well-established coffee houses like Starbucks have so many drinks on offer. Many new owners flatter themselves to think that they are competing with Starbucks on every level.
Starbucks has the name recognition to experiment; if a seasonal beverage tanks, it isn’t a death knell for the brand. For new coffee shops, though, you want to do a lot with a little. Have a simple menu with only the best drinks (and pastries, if that’s your thing) listed. How to start a coffee shop begins with designing your menu.
In the end, customers are happy to choose from a menu with limited options. What you want to avoid, however, is a menu with many options, many of which are mediocre. When this is the case, it’s easy for customers to decide to try a different neighborhood coffee spot.
Think About How You Stick Out From The Competition
And run with it. What makes a good business stick is its consistently high quality over a long period of time. A good name and a well-established theme can, however, make the difference in whether or not your shop draws customers.
There’s been an interesting discussion online for a while now that coffee shops should never use puns in their names. There’s no more room for a “Daily Grind,” say proponents of this theory. While I would never go as far as to say that, you need to assess your local market and decide how you can stick out.
Case Study: Thou Mayest
I’ll give you my favorite story of a coffee shop name that really worked to get potential customers’ names. I’ve traveled around the country, and when I was in Kansas City, I was blown away by a particular coffee shop I found years ago.
Thou Mayest Coffee had a name that immediately intrigued me. The name sounds literary, Shakespearean, or Biblical even, so I instantly assumed it would be a great place to sit and read.
As it turns out, this coffee shop is in an artist co-op, and when you enter, you’re flooded with the sights and sounds of artisans at work. Here are original tapestries, and in the back is the woman who makes them. To the left, baristas are grinding fresh beans for espresso. In the back, an illustrator is on her laptop, plugging away. Books line the shelves, and plenty of people are hanging out, reading, and discussing.
This was a case in which the name brought me into the coffee shop, while an extremely well-made cappuccino made me think I had to come back with my book and read if I had a free moment.
Be An Expert
My last piece of advice is this: if you’re going to do something, do it. That means that if you’re going to open up a coffee shop, be an absolute expert on coffee, or hire someone who is. If you’re going to be interacting with customers in any way, you should know up from down in a coffee shop. Understand why your baristas use Chemex, for example, and not the very similar Bodum pour-over.
You should understand why people care where the beans come from; you should know the history of coffee, you should know the biology and chemistry. In short, learn everything you can about coffee.
Don’t just know about coffee, though. You should understand business, too. Learn about digital outreach and how social media use impacts your brand. Be keenly interested in what motivates your customers to come in, maybe even interacting with them at their table and getting to know them on a first-name basis.
If You Build It . . .
While the old adage stands, modern-day coffee shop owners have to do a lot more than just build it. You need to build something worth visiting. If you can do that, your coffee shop will be completely unstoppable.
So what are you waiting for? Get the history books open, start researching digital marketing, and sharpen that keen mind of yours towards a customer focus.
There are plenty of online resources and forums that can help you with your journey, starting here that helps you to plan ahead on how to start a coffee shop for success. Good luck!
About The Author
Marko Lazarevic is the founder of Craft Coffee Spot. He has been drinking coffee his adult life and stumbled upon a Kalita Wave in his first job, which changed his coffee-drinking life. Since then, he has learned about different coffee brewing methods and wants to share this knowledge with others. His favorite brewing device is a French press.