How to Open a Successful Coffee Shop

I want to open a coffee shop. Where do I start?

People from all over the world ask us how to open a successful coffee shop. Whether or not they have any experience with coffee or business, our goal is to help our students find their true purpose, then empower them with the mindset, tools, and skills to positively impact other people’s daily lives through specialty coffee. 

To open a profitable coffee shop, it takes more than great coffee, beautiful aesthetics, and a high-traffic intersection. Successful coffee shop owners aim to create a thriving business by fulfilling a need in their community, or for the people they serve. 

How do I open a coffee shop? Hundreds of successful coffee shop owners from around the world have followed our step-by-step process.

1: A successful coffee shop starts with your “why” and core values

Contrary to popular belief, don’t start with a location. Start instead with a point of view. Ask yourself these essential questions: Why do I want to open a coffee shop? Why should this coffee shop exist? What does this business stand for (what is your unique point of view or belief that sets you apart?) What are you passionate about? Why coffee and not something else? And, why should anyone care?

Do you have an idea for an creative coffee shop business concept that’s keeping you up at night? Are you longing to take control of your career and be your own boss? Is there something missing in your community that you think your coffee shop can fulfill? Is there a group of people you’re truly committed to serving? 

If so, your “why” is going to shape your entire coffee shop business plan. It’s the thing that will keep you motivated when you run into roadblocks. And, it will set your coffee shop apart from everyone else’s. 

After you’ve identified your “why,” write down a list of core values that will keep you on track and inform your decisions. They can be words like, Innovation, Community, Service, Irreverence, Belonging, Creativity, Peace, Curiosity, or Design. The core values you come up with can help you establish everything from branding to menu items decor to user experience.

2. Define your ideal customer

Your clear “why” and core values will make it easy for you to identify an ideal customer. Very likely, their need and values will be aligned with your vision. What does your ideal customer care about and believe in? Why do they come to a coffee shop? What time of day are they out and about, what do they like to do, and what problems or points of pain exist in their lives that your coffee shop can solve? 

It’s important to know who you’re looking to serve before you choose a location. Now that you know who you’re trying to serve, choose your location based on where the highest density population of those people live.

3: Choose the right location for your coffee shop

If you put your coffee shop at the busiest intersection in town, you might still have a room full of empty tables if they aren’t the right people. Instead, choose a high-traffic area in what we like to call “fertile soil” full of the type of person who is likely to love what you have to offer. 

We teach our students a proven formula for how to find and select the right location for a coffee shop business to be successful. It takes into account your concept, your specific customers, drive-by and walk-by traffic, square footage, the average projected transaction, the location’s earning potential, cost of the space, build-out expenses, and other key factors. 

The right location for your coffee shop is a strategic decision that will have a huge impact on the success of failure of the business. You can’t risk making a bad location selection based on surface-level research or worse, a gut feeling. Therefore, you have to take into account the terms of the commercial lease and how to negotiate the factors that can potentially drain the business’s profits every month, and down the road. Believe it or not, a bad lease deal can actually turn a great location into a horrible location. (We cover how to negotiate a coffee shop lease agreement in-depth in our 3- Day Coffee Business Master Class, too.)

4: Implement operations systems that ensure success

We teach our students how to write business plans. But, there’s no reason to have a business plan if you don’t implement reliable systems for everyday operations. As a business owner, you’ll need systems for hiring, training, managing the budget, making purchases, and–at the end of the day–keeping money coming through the front door. Consider how (and who) to track your inventory. What training do employees need to ensure a great customer experience and a low employee turnover rate? 

This can be a lot to tackle for even the most experienced coffee shop owners and managers, which is why we encourage both new and experienced coffee shop leaders to attend our classes. Our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class is a comprehensive, turnkey solution for absolutely everything an owner needs to know to launch and grow a specialty coffee shop business.

5: Master the art and science of great coffee

Serving excellent coffee isn’t this far down on the list because it isn’t important, it’s because it’s a given. If you’re planning to open a successful coffee shop, serving consistently excellent coffee is essential. Our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class covers hands-on coffee education and barista training in great depth and detail too.)

6: Position your coffee shop with a unique selling proposition

Assuming you offer amazing coffee in a location that’s prime for serving your ideal customer, you’re still left to think about what sets you apart from every other coffee shop in the industry. If another coffee shop moved in next door with a similar customer, aesthetic, and equally great coffee, what would make that person walk through your door instead? And what would keep them coming back? 

So many coffee shops offer variations of the same menu, decor, and aesthetic. We’ve helped hundreds of students open successful coffee shops all over the world. The ones with staying power aren’t the copycats, they’re the innovators. We’ve seen coffee businesses integrate a love of music, art, or travel. Some employ people with special needs or young adults who have come out of the foster care system. Others offer a calm, bright space with a playground area for stay-at-home parents who want to get out of the house. 

When you consider your coffee shop business concept, what can you change about the user experience? How can you disrupt what other coffee shops are doing in your community in a new, different, or unexpected way? Can you fulfill a need that isn’t being met anywhere else? This is where your core values can meet the needs of your ideal customer.

7: Be resilient

We aren’t going to sugar coat it. Opening any business is going to require mental, emotional, and financial grit. Leases fall through. Employees don’t work out. There will be days that make you question why you wanted to open a coffee shop in the first place. 

If you started your coffee shop journey with a strong, clear “why,” you won’t be questioning very long. You’ll have a reason to stand up and step over, under, or around the obstacles that get in your way.

Being a Coffeepreneur® isn’t for everyone. But for those who really want it, they can create a business that not only fulfills a need for their tribe and community, but also for themselves. Knowing how to open a successful coffee shop is the first step.

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We’ve helped hundreds of students successfully launch their own coffee shop businesses. Join us in our 5-Star Rated Coffee Classes, whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking to open a coffee shop, a manager, a barista or home enthusiast looking to sharpen your skills.