The coffee industry in the United States continues to brew profit for savvy investors. Coffee's popularity has inspired many to get into the game by opening their own neighborhood coffee shops. Opening a coffee shop is no easy task, however. Successful operations need a superior product, great management and a loyal customer base.
Find a Niche
The coffee shop industry is highly competitive and odds are good your best customers already have several options available. To succeed, your shop will need to fill a specialized niche better than all the other java spots in town.
If you're looking to set up shop in a busy business district, great espresso on the go might be your niche. Executives don't have time to stand in long lines or luxuriate in comfy chairs, so a coffee stand with rapid service could be the perfect fit for the area. If your customer base is an artsier crowd, you might aim for a more spacious store with local art on the walls and an open mic night to bring in new business. Your niche could be almost anything, as long as your customers want it and you do it better than anyone else.
Perfect the Product
All the cozy ambiance in the world won't save you if you're serving an inferior product. Coffee is complicated and customers can tell the difference between a mediocre latte and an exceptional espresso. It's not good enough to serve up the same quality as every other shop in town, since you'll be starting out with zero customer loyalty. As the new kid on the block, you need to wow customers with excellent coffee.
You can impress your clientele with top-end machines and top-end beans, but your coffee will only be as good as your skill level allows. It pays to take time to master your craft through experimentation.
If you don't have much experience, try working in somebody else's coffee shop for a few months or years before opening your own.
Train Your Staff
A well-trained and highly motivated staff is an essential ingredient for coffee shop success. You can't be behind the counter all day everyday, so you need workers who will approach the job with just as much dedication and attention as you. First, they need to be able to make a great cup of coffee. On complex commercial machines, that can take some practice.
Second, your staff needs to move fast. Volume drives profits for coffee shops, and you can't sell high volume if your staff takes 10 minutes to complete every order. Customers will get bored and wander across the street to any of your many competitors. Baristas who work quickly and efficiently are worth a bit of extra expense.
Once you've got your decorations up, your product perfected and your staff trained, it's time to fling open those doors and invite the public inside. It's important to get off to a quick start and attract lots of customers early, because those first clients will end up becoming your customer base. You may have a take a loss for a few months due to rock-bottom prices or losing promotional schemes like rewards cards, but you'll build up customer loyalty. In the long run, the risk will pay off.
You need at least six months of cushion in your savings account to give your coffee shop the chance to turn profitable.
Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.