Standing out in a crowded field isn’t easy and these days, with new coffee shops popping up on high streets everywhere, differentiating your shop from all its competitors keeps getting harder and harder. While clothing and shoe shops are closing down at a fast rate as online purchases of those products grows, according to a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers survey coffee shops are among a few categories in retail making bold, strong moves into failed and vacated retail spaces.
Indeed, nearly 3-1/2 new coffee shops are opening in the U.K. every day, growth that will see coffee shops overtake pubs by 2030 if it continues, according to research recently commissioned on behalf of UK Coffee Week. As soon as 2021, the U.K. is forecast to have 9,400 coffee shops competing in a market valued at £6 billion a year, according to the Allegra Project Cafe2017 UK Report.
So how does a small, independent coffee shop stand head and shoulders above similar-size competitors or among large, well-financed chains that are replicating their smart retail concepts from place to place? Well, it can start by going back to basics and doing them well but also by doing something special that makes customers want or need to walk in the door on a regular basis. This “hook” may include offering a signature drink or dish that connects customers to your shop like no other coffee shop around for miles.
Special Items That Stand Out
A special drink needs to be extraordinary, novel and have such appeal that customers will go out of their way for it. It might entail a unique blend of beans from a local roaster or an exotic far-off one, homemade syrups, herbal teas, an original flavour not available elsewhere or a preparation or style of serving with irresistible appeal. Think lactose-free milks, such as soy, almond, coconut, hazelnut or cashew and seasonal specialities that keep your menu fresh and customers excitedly awaiting what is coming next. Hot chocolate at the Christmas holidays, pumpkin lattes at Halloween and iced teas, lemonades, smoothies and frappes during summer months can draw in clientele seeking something different. Experiment. Take risks with new combinations and don’t be afraid to break the mould. Give everything special a catchy name, even develop a theme.
A special dish might be savoury or sweet, cooked, chilled or even raw, and paired nicely with one of your drinks. Use fresh ingredients, prepare it daily and go the extra distance in the way you make and present it. If you aren’t set up for making paninis or sandwiches, try offering kettles of homemade soup or chili. Be original with muffins, perfect a cinnamon bun or see which cakes, biscuits or brownies fly off the shelves fastest and you will know what customers care about. Your food and drinks may also have unique features people care about. These include organic items or specialities such as gluten-free, decaffeinated, diabetic, low-sugar, low-fat, low-salt or low glycemic-index food. You are limited only by your own creativity when thinking up new options.
Healthy Options On the Rise
These harder-to-find categories can build up loyal followings among people who require them but struggle to locate them. The number of people seeking healthier options is growing all the time. An estimated 44 percent of European respondents to Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey in 2016 said they follow some type of diet that limits or prohibits consumption of at least some foods or ingredients. Globally, the figure was closer to two-thirds of respondents and an equal proportion said they were willing to pay more for foods without undesirable ingredients.
You can serve specific demographic groups that are overlooked by competitors this way, too. The Nielsen survey found that younger “Millenials” were more likely to embrace such diets than older people. Fruit or vegetable salads, low-carbohydrate meals incorporating lean proteins, yogurts, muesli, porridge, whole grains and high-fibre varieties will appeal to these health-conscious customers and make your shop a necessary stop for them on their commutes to work or their lunch hours.
As the Nielsen survey found, words like `price’ or `quality’ are empty terms because discerning customers will pay more for food and drink that meets their needs. Specialist food that was once considered `fringe’ or `alternative’ is now increasingly perceived as mainstream in today’s era of abounding choice and it’s frankly expected by many customers, who in return are willing to pay a premium for it.
Don’t Hide It
Remember that customers won’t come in to your shop if they don’t have a clear idea of what you offer. This applies equally to your special drinks and dishes. Don’t hide them in small corners of your menu, get them out in the open and be very specific and meaningful wherever you refer to them. You want these special items to appear in bold-face type, so colour code references to them and provide important nutritional information in straightforward language that everyone can easily understand. You should include calorie counts — if you have reliable calculations available – to help customers who are watching their waist lines.
Consider devoting a separate sign or board to advertise your special drinks and dishes so that they stand out. Use eye-catching layouts, fonts and colours. A chalkboard is a cheap and simple DIY solution and can be updated daily or weekly to reflect changes in your menu. A professionally painted sign or board will blend better with a more sophisticated, upmarket décor, but it will also cost more. Use these spaces to `shout out’ about the items that set your menu apart from competitors’ and to draw your customers’ eyes to the things your shop does best.
Marketing and Promotion
You may have references to your special offerings plastered all over the shop and even print them on receipts or business cards, but also make a pitch to people who haven’t even walked in the door by marketing and promoting your best items outside. Get flyers and posters printed. An A-board outside the shop will draw in customers who are intrigued by special offerings. Consider giving discounts on these during off-peak periods when tables are empty. Giant multi-national chains often drop prices on new offerings by as much as half to win over customers to the unknown, so why shouldn’t you?
Send an employee outside during quieter periods with a tray of samples of your special drinks and dishes to tempt passersby, which large coffee-shop chains also do very effectively. Find busy corners or commercial areas during the morning or afternoon commute, lunch hour or weekends where you can distribute still more samples, flyers and vouchers for discounts and introductory offers. Make sure you include a map and address. Attend festivals and other local community events that welcome businesses, set up a pop-up shop and take samples and vouchers along to get the word out.
Advertise in local print media, spelling out whatever is your special drink or dish. Most small, independent coffee shops have limited marketing budgets and social media is free, so use it to engage digitally with existing and prospective customers. Remember to add dazzling photos and mouth-watering descriptions of special items to your posts. Update them regularly, so that your followers on social media continue to spread the word among their networks. Make sure the power sockets and wi-fi connection in your shop are always working so that customers can immediately rave on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Snapchat about the fantastic cup of java or the delicious pastry they just consumed and help fuel the online buzz about your shop.
Be quick to respond on social media and listen to feedback. Take it seriously and you will learn what customers like and don’t like so that you can make your shop even more appealing. Use feedback cards to capture customers’ email addresses and, provided they consent to receive marketing material, develop an email list to which you can send offers and promotions for special drinks and dishes.
Be proud of everything you offer and really showcase your special items. Don’t overlook customer service either because it makes a huge difference in persuading patrons to try anything you offer. Be friendly and generous. After location, a word-of-mouth suggestion is the second biggest reason for choosing a coffee shop and if recommendations are positive, your footfall and sales will continue to grow.