Inventory is that part of a business's assets that are available for sale to clients and customers. It does not include your decorations or equipment (such as pots, pans and the espresso machine). Coffee shop inventory is specialized in that it consists in large part of goods that have an expiration date.

Know Your Customers

Knowing what your customers want will guide your decisions about coffee shop stock, whether you're starting a business or successfully managing an existing one. If most customers are business people purchasing a cup of coffee on their way to work, your inventory should support high-volume, fast-paced delivery of the product. You'll want to be sure to have plenty of to-go cups in various sizes as well as lids and cup sleeves. Decide if it's more expedient to customize drinks behind the counter with flavors, sweeteners and creamers, or to provide a self-serve station for customers to make additions themselves. Stock inventory accordingly.

You'll need to expand your inventory if you want to encourage customers to spend some time in your coffee shop. You may want to offer beverages in ceramic as well as to-go cups. You'll want to increase offerings of flavors and specialty drinks and add some food items.

Serving coffee in a tourist area? Include souvenir items in your coffee shop inventory. Think about logo t-shirts and mugs, bags of locally or in-house roasted coffees and customized coffee syrups, such as maple in New England or toasted pecan in the south.

Inventory: A Noun and a Verb

"Inventory" can refer to physical things. It can be a list of all the stock items you have on hand in your coffee shop, including unroasted beans, souvenir mugs and everything else you offer for sale to your customers. "Inventory" can also refer to the activity you engage in periodically (every month or every quarter) when you count and list all items you have in stock. Both definitions of inventory are important when running a successful coffee shop. You need to know what you have on hand as well as anticipate future needs.

FIFO for Freshness

You can run your coffee shop more effectively if you do a good job with inventory control. Businesses recognize a number of ways of organizing and moving stock. Because you are working with perishables and seasonal items, you may want to consider a FIFO system (first in, first out). This means you're always trying to get your oldest stock off the shelf and into the hands of consumers.

Experts suggest that unroasted coffee beans may have a shelf life as long as a couple of years. After it's roasted, however, your coffee is going to age rapidly. To ensure customers get a fresh cup or a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans, you must plan your inventory to roll your stock over quickly. Experts say roasted beans aren't much good after six months.

Inventory Control: Not an Afterthought

Inventory control is not just paperwork that you can put aside for a day when the shop isn't busy. Managing coffee shop stock is an essential part of managing your business. Learn as much as you can about inventory control to help improve your coffee shop's profits.

Most businesses will run an inventory once a month, comparing the goods on the list with the goods on the shelf; the difference between what you should have and what you actually have is your "shrink." And while FIFO inventory may be best for your perishables, you may find it expedient to go with a LIFO program (last in, first out) for your seasonal inventory. Always keep good records of coffee shop stock so you can implement a continuous improvement program and make changes based on your customers' purchasing preferences.