Start-up Strategies

Seven Strategies for a Successful Coffee-Shop Start-up

by Greg Ubert

Think­ing of open­ing a cof­fee shop? As in any busi­ness, care­ful plan­ning is vital to suc­cess. Here are some strate­gies to ensure that your cof­fee shop gets off to a sen­sa­tional and prof­itable start.

Lead with loca­tion. As in most retail ven­tures, loca­tion can make or break your cof­fee shop. Search for a highly vis­i­ble spot on the way to, or near, an area where prospec­tive cus­tomers work, go to school, shop, or travel. This is because at least 60 per­cent of spe­cialty cof­fee pur­chases occur in the morn­ing. The best loca­tions are on the side of the road because of morn­ing traf­fic and the high traf­fic vol­ume dur­ing morn­ing rush hour. A large vol­ume of pedes­trian traf­fic is another pos­i­tive loca­tion factor.

Good loca­tions often can be found in or near:
•    Downtown office build­ings
•    Colleges and Universities
•    Tourist areas with a high vol­ume of pedes­trian traf­fic
•    Strip malls with high-volume traf­fic
•    Airports

Location is so impor­tant that you may need to wait for the right spot to open up. The rent of your loca­tion should take up no more than 15 per­cent of your oper­at­ing expenses in the first year.

Think effi­ciency when arrang­ing your shop. By speed­ing up the drink prepa­ra­tion and cus­tomer ser­vice, the ideal cof­fee bar lay­out can boost prof­its by 20 per­cent or more. People hate to wait, espe­cially when they haven’t had their morn­ing jolt of java yet. Set up equip­ment and ingre­di­ents within easy reach of the barista. Locate the cash reg­is­ter within two steps of the espresso machine. Your cus­tomers will mar­vel at how speed­ily and grace­fully your baris­tas and cashiers fill their orders.

Buy the best. Specialty cof­fee cus­tomers are pas­sion­ate about the qual­ity and ori­gin of their cof­fee. One strat­egy to attract and keep cus­tomers is to gain a rep­u­ta­tion for serv­ing the best drinks in town. So don’t skimp on prod­ucts or equip­ment. Any money saved by buy­ing lower-grade beans or used equip­ment in the begin­ning will be lost sev­eral times over as cus­tomers leave your shop and don’t come back.

The espresso machine is the heart of any cof­fee shop. Buy the best machine and learn how to main­tain it prop­erly. Remember, if the espresso machine goes down, so does your business!

Top-quality cof­fee beans, syrups, milk, and other ingre­di­ents are essen­tial to your suc­cess. Rigorously taste-test the cof­fee you plan to serve and only order from roast­ers that guar­an­tee qual­ity and fresh­ness. To keep inven­tory costs low, find sup­pli­ers who can deliver top-notch ingre­di­ents as you need them.

Make mar­ket­ing a pri­or­ity. Too many coffee-shop own­ers think cus­tomers will appear as if by magic once they open their doors. In real­ity, mar­ket­ing must be an ongo­ing pri­or­ity. Marketing begins with promi­nent out­door sig­nage, your in-store menu, and point-of-purchase dis­plays. You also need an online pres­ence, such as a web­site or Facebook page that is updated reg­u­larly. You need to reach out to poten­tial cus­tomers who will be dri­ving or walk­ing past your store. I dis­cussed mar­ket­ing tech­niques in the March and April 2013 issues of CoffeeTalk.

Get hands-on train­ing. Thorough train­ing for both own­ers and baris­tas is one of the most crit­i­cal fac­tors in start­ing and run­ning a suc­cess­ful cof­fee house. You’ll need in-depth instruc­tion from experts cov­er­ing every­thing from oper­at­ing your equip­ment, to prepar­ing drinks, and more. I reviewed train­ing essen­tials in the June 2013 issue of CoffeeTalk.

Wow cus­tomers with incred­i­ble ser­vice. Happy cus­tomers become loyal cus­tomers. These indi­vid­u­als make word-of-mouth rec­om­men­da­tions that bring in new cus­tomers. Set the stage for out­stand­ing ser­vice by hir­ing friendly and out­go­ing baris­tas and cashiers. Make sure you greet every­one who comes into your shop with a smile and a friendly wave or “hello.” One key to repeat busi­ness is to know what your cus­tomers want as they walk in the door. This makes cus­tomers feel spe­cial and increases the speed with which you can serve them. Of course, great cus­tomer ser­vice doesn’t occur in a vac­uum. It’s inte­grally tied to all other facets of your cof­fee house, from store lay­out to equip­ment to staff training.

Turn clean­li­ness into a com­pet­i­tive edge. You only get one chance to make a first impres­sion, so make sure your cof­fee shop remains first-date-ready through­out the day. Set up clean­ing rou­tines so that the park­ing lot remains litter-free, your glass win­dows sparkle, tables are quickly cleared and cleaned, and the restrooms are spot­less. In many areas, your busi­ness may be sub­ject to unan­nounced health inspec­tions. Make sure you’re always prepared!

Greg Ubert, founder and pres­i­dent of Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, has been roast­ing cof­fee in small batches since 1991 and has taught hun­dreds of busi­ness own­ers how to run suc­cess­ful inde­pen­dent cof­fee houses. Greg can be reached at

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