First of all, let me start off by saying congratulations! You have decided on starting a coffee shop. Welcome to the wonderful world of specialty coffee!
Before you start your own coffee shop, in order to gain ultimate success you will need to find an under served area (under served by this industry, I mean!) to open your shop in. This will be your best option.
You don’t have to be the only coffee shop in any given radius, however. If there are other shops in the area, determine if the people of your target area are in need of another coffee shop. You can do this by visiting the existing shops to see if they are hitting the mark with excellent quality, service, ambiance, etc.
Using Starbucks to your advantage can actually gain you success. Starbucks has done your demographic and feasibility study for you in a specific area. Think about it: do you think they would open a store in a poor or unfeasible area? The answer is no. Find a Starbucks and open up the street from them. Why not? You will ultimately have much better quality!
The biggest plus is that Starbucks brings to any area awareness for specialty coffee, telling people it’s ok to pay $5.00 for it. And once people have a choice of quality or below average, who do you think they are going to choose?
To put things in your favor, do not mimic Starbucks or anyone for that matter. Set yourself apart and be unique! If you can, roast your own beans on premises. Push the fresh coffee concept, they sure don’t have that! Have signature drinks that are going to be much better than anything else anyone can offer. Charge more for quality coffee, have FREE Wi-Fi and latte art. Do all you can to set yourself apart from ANYONE.
Coming up with a theme will work in your favor too. For instance, in Ohio where I am from there is a talkie-era themed coffee house called, appropriately ‘Talkies’. It’s decorated with talkie–era film memorabilia. Even the sign and logo reflect it. Things like this are original but carry the specialty coffee image.
I mentioned latte art. This is where you can create visually appealing items in your foam. This sounds strange, yes but it will be a focal point to your customers. You can create roses, faces, figures and a lot more! It takes a lot of practice but if you offer latte art, you will see people come in because they want to see it! It is better with ‘for here’ cups because it is visual. On to go cups your latte art will only be covered with the lid!
Have open mike nights, singer/songwriter performances and events like book signings and poetry reading. Local artisan shows and displays are another area that you can set yourself apart from other shops.
If you close early you may consider renting your shop after hours or on a day you are closed. Or if you have extra space, or a party room you can have another revenue stream while you are open. That is very different than other shops.
Another area of uniqueness is deli catering and coffee service. Both can be available any time for local business meetings and lunches, grand openings of stores near you. The list goes on.
Espresso catering can be lucrative if done correctly and marketed to the right prospective customers. You must also charge accordingly because of the work involved. You usually need a minimum of two people due the heavy equipment and set up. It’s basically a small espresso shop set up at someone’s event but if done correctly, it will set your shop apart from the rest.
There are some that will argue, however that this concept above I have described is really being outdone. Another newbie slicing the almighty coffee shop pie and cutting into existing shop profits. That may be true in some aspects, however I do not think it have been exhausted.
However, if you think it is a pot ready to boil over, you may consider a different angle. Maybe pair coffee exclusively with a different product altogether. Come up with something different, something that will compliment coffee.
If there is not a bakery in town, having a bakery side of your shop that offers more than a few scones and muffins can be a great success. Not necessarily a full blown bakery where you have to go in at 2am, but a larger scale version of basic coffee shop bakery offerings.
Making homemade ice cream, handmade chocolates, truffles or the like will also set you apart. There are dozens of complimentary angles to consider that pair well with coffee and the coffee house character. This will set you apart.
I will offer one thing to watch out for though. If your pairing idea is going to overpower your coffee, be sure to have a separate room or side of your shop for the complimentary concept you are going to offer. As an example, say you want to pair your shop with a BBQ take out window. Odd yes and not my choice of paring but hey, it’s enough to set you apart! However, be sure to have a closed off area to prepare your BBQ in.
Do not over power the coffee or people will forget you are a coffee shop. Remember, you will be a coffee shop that offers BBQ, not the other way around.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure you are going to be original when starting a coffee shop. Don’t beat any concept to death and your coffee shop start up will go smoothly! Good luck!