After working with independent coffee house owners for more than 20 years, I’ve found that one consistent, major weakness is the lack of focus on marketing. Many business owners neglect this vital function because they don’t know where to start, are put off by the perceived expense, or are distracted by the thousands of small details involved in running a successful enterprise. Yet marketing is one of what I call the “big rocks.” The term comes from a story attributed to time management guru Stephen Covey.
It starts with a business professor who takes out a big glass jar, fills it to the top with fist-sized rocks and asks his students if the jar is full. “Yes!” they answer. “Not so fast,” the professor cautions. He then takes out a previously hidden container of small pebbles and pours them into the jar, filling the spaces between the big rocks. He asks again if the jar is full. This time the students respond, “Probably not.” The professor then pulls out a bucket of sand and dumps it into the jar. The sand sifts into the spaces between the pebbles. This time when he asks if the jar was full, the students all say, “No!” Finally, he grabs a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim. After the students agree that the jar finally is full, he asks, “What is the point of this demonstration?”
“That you can always fit more into your life,” says one of the students.
“No,” says the professor. “If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”
Marketing is one of the big rocks of running a coffee shop. If you don’t put a sound marketing program in place, you may never get to the other items on your “to do” list … because you may not have a shop for long. Fortunately, effective coffee shop marketing doesn’t require spending a lot of money. A well-focused marketing plan that employs signage, grass roots strategies, social media, events, and in-store promotions can deliver a growing stream of customers without breaking the bank.
Here are some marketing tips that coffee house owners have used to turn their big rocks into abundant profits.
Don’t get stuck on your name. Many coffee shop owners spent hours fretting about the name of their business, but it’s not a big rock. Just choose a name that quickly communicates who and what you. Be sure to tack on “Coffee House” or “Coffee Bar” to the title, because people are not going to stop their cars to find out what your business is about. And do your research to make sure the name hasn’t been trademarked by anyone else before you invest in signage or promotional materials.
Stake Your Claim. Prominent signage is as important as the name of the shop. Again, make sure the words “Coffee House,” “Coffee Bar” or “Coffee Shop” are displayed in very large letters. Steer clear of fancy, script fonts. Potential customers aren’t going to circle around the block to take a second look at a sign they can’t read.
Make Your Menu Sell. Lay out your menu in a way that entices customers to try your most popular and profitable drinks. As a general rule, consumers read advertisements from top down and left to right. Put your hot espresso drinks at the top left, iced and blended espresso drinks on the right.
Invest in a Website. Your website is your online storefront. Customers can check it 24 hours a day for your business hours, specials and events. Web platforms such as WordPress make it easy to establish an inexpensive website that can be updated regularly.
Grow Your Business with Grass-Roots Marketing. The best form of marketing doesn’t take a lot of money. You have a community-based business, so don’t start with a radio spot or by placing ads in a city-wide paper. People are not going to drive across town for a cup of coffee. Instead, hit the pavement to meet other business owners and build relationships with local schools and community organization. As your business grows, you may become so busy that “hitting the pavement” loses its priority. Again, focus on the big rocks and it will pay big dividends.
Strike a Partnership with Local Business Owners. Ask local business owners for referrals, and then give them and their staff a $1 espresso-based drink. Local restaurants, retail shops, salons and other businesses in the area are good places to network.
Join the Chamber of Commerce. Become a member of your local Chamber of Commerce and take advantage of the services they offer, including networking sessions and annual events. This is a great way to meet your neighbors and get involved in the community.
Hold a Grand-Opening Event. Plan a grand opening about a week after your soft opening. Make some inexpensive signs and fliers inviting neighbors to come in for great espresso-based drinks for $1. An espresso-based drink costs about $1 to make, so you’re not losing money by selling it for $1. Ask area business neighbors if you can post signs or leave fliers with them, and leave fliers at area homes.
Create Weekly Specials and Seasonal Promotions. Encourage your customers to try something new with posters, counter mats, table tents and other point-of-purchase materials featuring a picture of a delicious drink. These point-of-purchase materials also usher in the holidays in a fun and inviting way.
Activate Your Customer Base. Building relationships with your customers encourages repeat sales and referrals – the lifeblood of any small business. Encourage customers to bring friends in for a “buy one, get one free” special. Gather customer e-mails and send them regular news and specials.
Get Social. Starting a social media program is another inexpensive way to engage with customers and prospects. With today’s array of social networking platforms, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so start out slowly. Open only a Facebook account or only a Twitter account. Once you have mastered that account, branch out to others. Keep these things in mind as you set up your social media program:
1. Make a plan. Know what you hope to achieve and how you will measure results.
2. Be interactive. Listen to your customers, respond to their questions or concerns, and ask for their opinions. The more engaging you are, the more likely people will be to visit your page, website, and ultimately, your coffee house.
3. Be consistent. Social media is a long-term investment; you have to post regularly to see the payoff.
Celebrate Your Anniversary. Every year, celebrate your business anniversary with a one-day special, such as $1 drinks.
We have just scratched the surface of the marketing big rocks in this column. Next time, we will look at the real costs of shoe leather in grass roots marketing campaigns.
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. The author of Seven Steps to Success in the Specialty Coffee Industry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.