Comedian Louis Black once joked about an older man with Alzheimer's coming out of a Starbucks and he immediately spots a Starbucks right across the street. He excitingly proclaims: "Look! A Starbucks. I want a cup of coffee." If you are starting a coffee shop or cafe, how do you compete with the likes of a Starbucks, seemingly on every corner? You may already be in operation and are asking yourself the same thing. There are many factors that contribute to winning.
Many will start down the path to business ownership without really understanding what it takes to succeed. Some proceed on a wing and prayer. The number one reason for coffee shop failure is poor planning. Writing a business plan is the most important step in starting any business and is often given only cursory attention. The secret to developing a good business plan is asking yourself the right questions. The magic occurs when you crystallize your thoughts and force yourself to answer them in writing. The devil is in the details as they say. Your vision, and the path to reach it, then becomes clear.
In today's world, consumers vote with their online reviews, and consumers respond to high quality. Excellence in coffee is a pursuit, not an end, so always focus on quality to help differentiate your coffee shop. Use the highest specialty grade coffee and have it fresh roasted on order for your coffee shop. This costs more than commodity grade, coffee-off-the-shelf, but is critical to producing the best cup. Don't take shortcuts on cheap equipment. Featuring pour-over brewing options in addition to traditional brewed coffee is now a necessity. Invest in continual training for your staff for quality and consistency. High quality will develop unwavering loyalty.
Organic coffee has grown dramatically within the specialty coffee industry in the last couple years. In addition, offering Fair Trade Certified coffees continues to gain awareness in the consumer community. Some successful cafes have organic offerings as their dominant theme. This strategy attracts a huge following among millennials and especially the 30, 40, and 50 something female population. It also strikes a vibrant chord among both genders in mid to upscale urban areas. The opportunity for a Fair Trade Certified Organic strategy extends to food, smoothies, deserts, ice creams, chocolates and teas. It should go without saying to offer the highest quality products from reputable suppliers, with a track record.
Trying to look like a Starbucks and act like a Starbucks is not a winning strategy. Your own unique brand strategy will drive the development of your culture, ambiance of your cafe, and ultimately customer loyalty. Effective branding uses all sensory means available to create a lasting impression of your identity in your customer's minds. Everything they see, touch, hear, smell and taste has the potential to promote your brand identity. Not just mugs, cups, and uniforms, but also counters, walls, windows and chairs. Hiring professional graphic design says a lot about you if you make that investment in your success. Even a signature hello and goodbye greeting, you train your employees to use to welcome your customers, will build your unique brand. Remember, first impressions are truly lasting impressions and you often only have one chance.
Several years ago, a nearby coffee shop failed within 6 months of opening, but they were not our client. Then, one of our customers decided to buy this now defunct coffee shop. It was completely rebranded and changed to an Organic and Fair Trade Certified coffee strategy. This coffee shop has gone on to be voted, by their own customers, as the "Best Coffee House" in the entire state! Why did the previous owners fail, but the new owner is succeeding, in the exact same location? Strategy, quality, and branding! Today, McDonalds are beginning to look more like a Starbucks and Starbucks are beginning to look more like a McDonalds. In the mind of the consumer, the lines are beginning to blur, which makes it easier to differentiate with your own compelling brand identity. Maybe a "McBucks" merger is coming?