We all know the coffee shop market has boomed over the last decade, but is the end of the boom in sight? Are we approaching saturation point in the UK? Citibank seems to think so; its researchers’ recent findings suggest that the UK has only another four or five years of growth left in the market. That doesn’t mean we’re drinking fewer coffees per capita, just that the time is approaching when most high streets will have achieved maximum coffee shop capacity. So, how do you continue to attract new customers and encourage loyalty and more spend, with so much competition about?
Of course, it all starts with the quality of your coffee: in terms of the bean or blend, the baristas concocting the coffee offer, and the espresso machine on your counter.
Now, there’s no single blend which touches the taste buds of every customer the same way, so you can forget a magic bean. Instead, a lot of coffee shop chains and even artisan and independent coffee shops have their regular house coffee blend, and bring guest flavours in at regular intervals. Simply monitoring sales of your different blends isn’t enough, of course, especially if you’re not making a big song and dance about the coffee rotations and new flavours on offer. You need to chat to your regulars, get their feedback, and even offer tastings out on the street. If nothing else, it’s a good way to raise awareness. Sourcing ethically produced and distributed coffee is a must – and something you should seek to publicise too.
Bettering your barista skills is something which every coffee shop owner should make a priority. We’re living in a world where coffee choice is expanding seemingly by the month, and customer knowledge and sophistication is growing. Your skills and those of your staff need to grow too. Initial training to a high standard is a must, and if you want to stay ahead of the game, it’s worth having refresher or advanced training scheduled regularly.
And the better your coffee machine, the greater control you should achieve over taste. Premium espresso machines with programmable pre-infusions, temperature control and other features allow you to customise your coffees for a smoother better taste. If you can serve three coffees at once, you’ll speed up drinks delivery, which keeps customers happy and allows you more time to offer other food or drink services. It’s also worth considering a high group arrangement, to make it easy to offer takeaway coffees.
But that’s not all you should be looking at
The savvy coffee shop owner doesn’t just specialise in coffee, they aim to create the best all-round experience possible. Everything plays its part, from interior décor to comfort of seating, from background music to service with a smile.
If you’re not rushed at the counter, don’t be afraid to check that customers are enjoying their drinks and food, or to ask if there’s anything else they’d like. If a friend has chanced upon them and hasn’t sat down, do ask whether you can get them a drink. Don’t be pushy – there’s a fine line – but be warm and welcoming. Customer service is one of those areas which is especially overlooked by small business owners. You’ll have experienced both extremes yourself at some point: the overbearing shop owner who’s in your face too much, and the person behind the counter who looks like they’d prefer to put your hand in the grinder rather than serve you.
It can be a tricky balance to get right. As customers, we don’t want to be badgered, but we can’t bear feeling unimportant or intimidated either. Above all, though, the customer experience has to feel real, not forced. Ask a few trusted acquaintances to watch you and your staff work, over a coffee or two. Make sure they know they can be honest and open in their response. And don’t use feedback to punish staff – or yourself – instead, view it as an opportunity to enhance the coffee shop experience.
And watch your customers (in a non-creepy, non-scary way…). Look out for grimaces as they sit in your chairs, frustration if they can’t access WiFi, their expression after the first sip of that macchiato, how long their smile lasts after you serve them.
You’ll find some ideas on attracting customers to your coffee shop here.