There aren’t many UK coffee shops which enjoy a monopoly in their area – unless you run a coffee kiosk at a railway station, it seems there’s always another option within strolling distance. And on those stretches of your high street where shoppers can choose between several coffee shops – specialist or general – what makes one coffee shop more successful than the next?
There’s no simple answer, of course. But followers of this coffee blog may remember that we mentioned the Big 7 Travel roundup of the 50 best coffee shops in England. Big 7 Travel is not a coffee specialist, but it does have a social media following of around 1.5 million, so its reach is powerful. When it turned to those followers to vote for their favourite coffee shops, the top 50 cafés and espresso bars found themselves with some top-notch, free publicity and impressive bragging rights.
There are more than 5000 independent coffee shops around the UK, so your odds of ranking as the best of the best are, of course, slim. But tell that to those lucky to be listed in the best 50. Luck may be less of a factor than the ideal combination of location, quality and the environment they’ve created.
We wondered what the common factors were, though, in this list. What takeaways – if you’ll pardon the pun – can customers of our coffee machine leasing company use to inform their strategy, especially start-up coffee shops?
The top 6 factors in the top 50 coffee shops
Now, we can’t be too scientific here – we’re working on the brief write-ups on the list summary and sadly haven’t had time to tour the country to try all these delectable coffees – but you can quickly see what factors feature heavily for these shortlisted coffee shops. We haven’t mentioned those who do their own coffee roasting, because that’s not an easy thing to assimilate into your own coffee shop!
- Great coffee. No surprise that the most common feature is the quality and taste of the coffee on offer. If your coffee is anything less than delicious, there’ll be no special mentions coming your way.
- Foods, alternative drinks and other treats. From specialist teas to home-made baked goods and in-store brunches, 21 of these coffee shops get another customer taste offer mentioned. The advantage of diversity in your offering.
- Atmosphere & environment. This includes everything from the barista knowledge to the internal theme. Get customer service right and make sure your interior stands out for the right reasons.
- Sustainability & seasonality. Fourteen of the summaries specifically mention principles aligned with sustainability and seasonality, whether that’s locally sourced produce for their baked goods, ethically sourced farm-to-cup coffee or offering organic or vegan menus which have a less damaging impact on the planet.
- Location, location, location. It’s Coffee Shop Rules 101. Get the right location and you’re at an instant advantage. You want some combination of footfall, convenience, outside space and scenic views, ideally. If your location isn’t prime, you’ll want to work with neighbouring retailers and local initiatives to draw more people into your area.
- Activities and USPs. One coffee shop gets its board-game evenings mentioned, another its dog-friendly customer policy, others their special cocktails or the opportunity to take classes. Such features clearly aren’t vital to beat your competitors, but they may make all the difference.
It’s likely that all of these coffee businesses ensure that every ground coffee bean that passes through their espresso machine is ethically sourced in every way, and that all offer outstanding customer service and an environment where people just feel comfortable and welcome. The bottom line is that the simplest way to be the most successful coffee shop in your area is to get the coffee right, the atmosphere right, and the diversity of your offer right.
Now warm up that coffee machine and taste-test away. That’s where it all starts.