How to Start a Coffee Shop People Love
When students come to us to learn how to start a coffee shop, most of their questions start with business tactics. What does it cost? What equipment should we buy? How do we choose our location? These are all great questions. (And, we answer them all thoroughly in our 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class). But, the success of numerous popular coffee shop business models ultimately lies elsewhere: loyal customers.
You might make the best cup of specialty coffee west of the Mississippi. But without a loyal customer base, your coffee shop won’t succeed in the face of competition, a global pandemic, or a winter storm that knocks out power for weeks. Those of us who love to frequent coffee shops know they’re about far more than great coffee. Coffee shops are gathering spaces where like-minded communities come together to share interests and quality time.
When most of us dream of starting a coffee business, it’s because we want to create something meaningful. What’s more meaningful than delivering a customized, purposeful experience to customers who love your coffee shop? Here’s where we recommend every successful coffee shop should start.
Focus on a Niche Customer Segment
The most important thing any business or brand can understand is you can’t be all things to all people. Even if you’re opening a coffee shop in a small town, you need to start by identifying your crowd. Then, create a personalized, curated experience just for them.
Who do you plan to serve:
- The stay-at-home parent who needs a kid-friendly place to get out of the house?
- The remote worker who brings a laptop, meets a colleague, and stays for lunch?
- The oil rig worker who picks up coffee and breakfast before the sun comes up?
If you aren’t sure, you need to back up a step and identify your why. Why do you find purpose in opening a coffee shop in the first place? What are you passionate about? What are you excited to share with others? Identifying your why makes it easier to identify the niche segment of customers who will stand behind your point of view. They’ll be the people who pass two other coffee shops before coming to yours. They don’t just care about what you’re selling, they care about why you’re selling it. They’ll see their own values validated in your business, and it will make them want to come back again and again.
Want some examples?
- This coffee shop caters to the surf crowd
- This sno-cone and coffee shop is for families and kids
- This vinyl record-themed coffee shop serves and eclectic collection of music lovers
Create a Unique Business Concept
Now that you know who your coffee shop is for, think about how to create an experience for them. Developing a viable business concept is one of the most important steps in starting a successful coffee shop. It will help you refine your business plan, choose a location, and ultimately inform every detail of your menu, aesthetic–even your name.
Start here: What do you want to be known for? How do you want your customers to describe you?
Remember that trendy decor and excellent coffee are not a business concept. While these factors are important, any competitor could come in and replicate them. In order to build a brand, you have to consider how your entire coffee shop experience is different, unique, or special.
Here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you’re developing your business concept:
- What are the core values of your business?
- What are you and your customers passionate about?
- How do you want people think about your brand? (Friendly, irreverent, magical, nerdy, comforting, adventurous, witty, etc…)
- Where/how/when would your customers visit your coffee shop?
- How will your coffee shop be different or disruptive?
- Is there a theme that brings everything together?
- What kind of user experience will you offer? (How will people order? How will they pay? Where will they sit?)
- How should the coffee shop look and feel?
Your coffee shop concept is ultimately what drives your loyal customer base to care. Take the time to be intentional about developing something you’re deeply passionate about and that will truly set you apart.
Choose the Right Coffee Shop Location
You know who your customers are. You know what you want to create. Now it’s time to choose a location aligned to where your loyal customers live, work, and play. A lot of coffee shop owners want to start with a great location, but that can be a mistake. Your location is a strategic decision that takes a number of factors into account:
- Target audience
- Business concept
- Area demographics and psychographics
- Businesses nearby
- Drive by and walk by traffic
- Ease of access
- Square footage, layout, and structure of the facility
We work with our business students to estimate a location’s revenue potential based on all of these factors. And it’s only once they’ve intentionally identified an audience and a concept that a location can truly help make their coffee shop a success.
Design a Menu with Your Customers in Mind
Your menu is a primary factor in attracting a loyal customer base. Whether you’re serving coffee and vegan brunch, coffee and rainbow milkshakes, or coffee and local beer on tap is going to drastically change who your loyal customers are. Knowing who they are and when they’re likely to visit should inform your menu. Craft a specialty menu around items you’re sure your niche customers will love. (Of course, make sure to choose something that’s profitable, fits your concept, and you love, too.)
When creating a menu, we recommend starting small. What’s one menu item you can pour love and focus into? Choose something to be famous for–something you do better than anyone else. This will help you avoid building a huge menu with a lot of mediocre options. The more specialized you are, the more reason for people to come back to visit again and again, bring their friends, and post your coffee shop all over Instagram.
How to Start a Coffee Shop, Step-by-Step
In our 3-Day Business Master Class, we teach students from all over the world how to start a coffee shop with loyal customers. We provide a step-by-step roadmap that takes students all the way from their idea, to opening, to managing a successful coffee shop. Register for our next available class here. Or, check out our other classes for barista training, coffee shop management, latte art skills, and more.