We all have those moments when we sit back and reconsider our priorities, or recognise what truly does, or would, make us happy.
As a nation, and even as a world, it feels like for a brief moment we have all had similar and simultaneous moment of this reflection and readjustment. Surprisingly high on that hitlist of dreams of what we would love to be doing, comes opening and running a coffee shop. Why ‘surprisingly’? It is surprising and maybe more that a little sad, because so few people actually follow that dream and do it. It seems likely, then, that more people will have been whiling away the hours fantasising about the life of a coffee-shop or cafe owner during the lockdown. Others though, who has that dream, will have seen the fragility and unreliability of the world and of the retail world and will have lost some faith in their dreams, and in themselves.
The picture is definitely not as dark as it may seem to some people, indeed, there are many reasons to why you should still open that dream coffee shop. This is where we can stop using the words ‘dream’ and ‘fantasy’ start talking about reality with a clear eye for the opportunities, old and new, which are out there.
One of the elements which make coffee shops, small chains of coffee shops and cafes successful, is being at the heart of a sense of community. It is important to remember that community does not simply mean a small regional group, and, of course, nobody lives within just a single community. Coffee shops can sit at the heart of a Venn diagram of very many different communities.
Yes, there is the local community, tied together by their adjacency, similar experiences and intertwined lives, but there are also communities of coffee lovers, or vegans and vegetarians and of people who want to support distant communities of coffee growers through businesses who have the agility to target their spending in a humanitarian way. There is the environmentally-savvy community who appreciate a company which can source a product which is not the output of vast international agri-businesses or faceless hedge funds who promote fast turnover and instant profit through the use of chemical fertilisers and harmful insecticides. There is also the growing community of consumers who want to avoid their money going into the vast pockets of massive international retail chains.
Once you realise how many communities of people are already invested in what a coffee shop can provide it is easy to see how many markets and how many people are ready and wating as potential customers for your business. This awareness can also help develop and define the details of what kind of coffee shop you want to open and to whom you want to appeal. This awareness, in turn, will help focus your marketing, your promotions, your shop design and your sourcing and purchasing. Being certain, as a business, about who you are, what is important to you, and who your market is, having a clear identity, provides a stability and cohesive intent which then makes many of the further decisions you make, both big and small, incredibly clearer and easier to make.
The High Street
Over the last twenty to thirty years, the unstoppable rise of giant retail companies has meant that the success of a single corporate store, backed by its deep corporate coffers has dealt deathblows to countless independent shops. This has gradually transformed bustling and varied local high streets, and even city centre high streets, into ghost towns of empty frontages, betting shops and charity shops. But for all things, there is a season: gone are the Woolworths stores, many of the Debenhams stores, John Lewis’ and many others. Once it would have been unimaginable that the likes of Boots and WHSmith would be anything but unstoppable customer-hoovering giants, but even they now stand on shakier financial tightropes than they have ever done before.
This means there is now the opportunity to be part of a resurgence of the high street, a high street once again made vivid and exciting by independent businesses. Local councils, more than ever, need the income from business rates and see the economic advantages of lower business rates raised across a much greater number of businesses. The landlords who were so determined not to renegotiate rents are now going to find that they have helped create an economy in which they have more properties which are providing an equally non-negotiable zero rent. These hard economic facts come together for a prospective independent business-person to result in a market where there are many more open doors for people wanting to start small businesses and where the fixed costs are lower or at the very least much more open for negotiation.
This is not just good news for coffee shops, but it is also good news for every other possible business opening up on the high street. The domino effect of every new shop which opens is more people visiting the high street, which encourages yet more businesses to open and each and every one of these businesses is creating the magic footfall across the front of, and then into, your coffee shop.
Coffee Awareness and Knowledge
Like wine from the late 1970s to the present day, there has been a rocketing rise in awareness and knowledge of coffee across a much bigger proportion of the population than ever before. This has been gathering momentum for over a decade now and it provides a whole range of monumental bonuses for anybody who has, or who wants to start, their own coffee shop.
The better people know and understand coffee and know what good coffee is, the more they will recognise and avoid poor coffee. The big coffee chains don’t make vast profits by producing bad coffee, and we would never claim that they do: what they do brilliantly is produce a reliable, drinkable coffee every time for vast numbers of people, quickly and efficiently. As people learn more about coffee they also learn about the alternatives to this and learn about the value of what an independent coffee shop can provide.
What it provides is not only a better quality coffee, but also one which is produced slowly and carefully by a passionate artisan who appreciates not only the more coffee-aware customer but also the opportunity to share and celebrate the wonders of the coffee world with people who are only taking their first tentative steps into its waters.
Although price distinctions between the chains and independents are not massive, on those occasions when an independent charges more for a coffee, customers who are better educated about what they are drinking will appreciate why there may sometimes be a direct relationship between cost and quality just as we have all come to understand the implications of buying wine for £5, £10 or more than £10. Wine for £5 is not necessarily terrible and occasionally there are wines which really stand out at that price, at approaching £10 we can generally expect a reliably better quality wine, and at above £10 we are buying what we understand to be something a little more special. The same goes for coffee, for a quick drink of something hot and ‘coffeeish’ to get us going there is a certain value but for only a little more we know that we can expect something very different, something possibly world-class. There are not many ways in which something of truly world-class quality can be enjoyed for under £5. To be able to honestly and sincerely tell your customers that what they are enjoying at that price is something recognised as among the world’s best is a powerful selling point for any business, especially when more customers know enough to be able to recognise that you are right.
The Safe Space
Returning to our image of a world of reassessed priorities, the safe space provided by a coffee shop is going to play an even more important part in people’s lives. The rise in mindfulness, and the recognition of the necessity to take active steps to nurture our own mental health meant that there was already a relationship building between the safe space created by coffee shops and these psychological and emotional benefits. After Covid 19 people have come to recognise even more, the value of human interaction and of places where they can meet, relax and be together. Here, coffee shops have always come into their own and they are almost unique in this role.
The space in a coffee shop is one which appeals across age and cultural boundaries, from babyccinos for the very youngest, to decaf, soy milk lattes for older, more health conscious customers, it offers an alcohol free environment, where alternative lifestyles and attitudes are as accepted as any other and where it is expected, rather than grudgingly accepted, that you will order specifically to account for your tastes, needs and even beliefs.
Maybe this blog shouldn’t have been called ‘why you should still open that dream coffee shop’ but ‘why wouldn’t you be opening that dream coffee shop?’ Economically, socially and personally there may be no better time to summon up the courage to take that step and open up your own coffee shop and for all the help and equipment you might need, the team here at Bridge is ready and eager to help in any way you want. We look forward to helping you make your dream a reality.